While in search of a favorite film to pull up for some free streaming, I latched onto one of Plex’s recent offerings: Jackie Brown, which happens to be my favorite Tarantino movie. It was his third project (after Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction) and is the only one he adapted entirely from another source. It’s one of those flicks that gets better the second and third time around. Thank you, Elmore Leonard!
And thank you Pam Grier, an underappreciated actor who received a long-overdue and much-deserved career revival after helming the role of the titular character.
Grier’s Jackie is a just-a-shade-under-working-class flight attendant for an “international” airline that subsists mainly on discount flights between the exotic locales of LA and Cabo San Lucas. Think Spirit Air but in the 70’s and with no money.
Working for poverty-level wages makes her an easy target for exploitation by a gangster named Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson. I know he’s great in a lot of films, but this particular role feels tailor-made to highlight his range and mad skills.
Ordell is a menace who is so successful at pedaling stolen weapons that he needs to find a way to smuggle his profits — lots of cash — to a safe hiding place over the border. Enter Jackie Brown as his anointed exporter/importer.
Unbeknownst to Jackie, Ordell has drawn the attention of the ATF, and one of his recently-busted underlings (Chris Tucker) may be about to sell him out to get a plea deal (SPOILER: snitching on Ordell is not a good move). In their pursuit of Ordell, the ATF guys (Michael Keaton and Michael Bowen) snag Jackie in the parking garage upon her return to LAX one afternoon. They search her carry-on and lo and behold, there’s an envelope in the bottom of the bag containing a bundle of Ordell’s cash she is smuggling back into the country. And the kicker is, the envelope also contains a stash of cocaine, which we later learn was a little surprise gift from the mysterious Mr. Walker to his buddy.
The result of the Feds’ search sends Jackie to jail. When Ordell learns of Jackie’s predicament, he dispatches veteran bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to the rescue. (Forster also experienced a career revival —if that’s what you call an Academy Award nomination— for his work.)
He dutifully posts the bond and then retrieves Jackie from the hoosegow and gives her a ride home. On the way, they stop for a cocktail at a swanky hideaway near the airport named The Cockatoo Inn, where the twosome chats for a bit about how Jackie got herself this jammed up. Afterwards, with Jackie successfully restored to her bachelorette pad, Max discovers she’s stolen his gun out of the glove box of his powder blue ’78 Caddy. And so begins a beautiful relationship.
There’s a murder I left out, but no matter. The intrigue builds as we watch Jackie hatch a plan to extricate herself from the Feds’ clutches utilizing Ordell’s stash, with key assistance from Max. We spend some time at the food court of the Del Amo Mall in Torrance —billed as the world’s biggest.
Then there are the women in Ordell’s life. He has three, who he’s stashed in various locales around the city, as one does. There’s Simone the wanna-be-Supreme; the surfer girl, Melanie, in Hermosa Beach (Bridget Fonda); and Sheronda the country girl in Compton.
Along the way, we also meet Ordell’s old buddy and former cellmate Louis (Robert DeNiro), who’s been freshly released from prison.
As the plot unfolds, we’re treated to a couple of unanticipated and brutish murders, and then we marvel as the suspenseful final strokes of Jackie’s master plan play out.
The action isn’t always fast, but the plotting is so clever that the film never drags. Pam Grier is captivating in every scene in which she appears, and when we get to the final scenes, there’s an element of sweetness in the resolution that is truly satisfying. The camera work throughout is splendid. The exterior shots provide an impressive tour of the not-so-famous parts of the LA metro. And, of course, the dialogue has the Tarantino touch, inescapably charming one minute and threatening the next. Be forewarned: There is a good deal of cursing (the film earned its share of biting criticism for its frequent use of the n-word). In the end, Jackie Brown offers up a unique heist movie, inside a revenge flick, with just a bit of rom-com to boot. Plus, the soundtrack is a monster, featuring as it does some dusty oldies and a heartfelt homage to the smooth, silky sounds of the Delfonics.
Oh, and what, you may be asking, does Jackie Brown have to do with Christmas? Not one damn thing really, except it was released to a nationwide audience on December 25, 1997.