Jan. 24, 2013 - Issue #901: Children can’t choose
Jackie Brown finds Tarantino mining complexities of genre
Quentin Tarantino, never one for staying on the QT and lying low, riffed on noir, pulp and blaxploitation before exploding his movie lab with genre cloning (splicing grindhouse, spaghetti western and martial arts) and revisionist-revenge histories. The early, more mature and nuanced period ended after Jackie Brown (1997), as if the writer-director had to bust out of his SoCal interiors and dialogue-driven character development.
Tarantino's key change to Elmore Leonard's 1992 novel Rum Punch was to make Jackie black. She's played by Pam Grier in a carefully measured stride beyond her blaxploitation chicks (Foxy Brown, etc). The opening sequence, as the credits roll in a '70s font, shows Jackie strolling along in a stewardess uniform that could be 20 years old, with a song, "Across 110th Street," calling us back to another blaxploitation movie.
Then we're shot into the '90s. Arms-dealer Ordell (Samuel L Jackson) reviews his product-catalogue with Louis (Robert De Niro) as he plays a VHS tape of "Chicks With Guns." Ordell gets pager-using bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to spring Beaumont (Chris Tucker); the none-too-trusting boss kills his mouthy underling. But Beaumont's already talked and Jackie's caught with the money for Ordell.
Leonard's taut tales of seedy schemers have been most recently and successfully adapted by the TV series Justified. What Tarantino does is sit us in livingrooms, bars and food courts for a nice long time alongside the shifty, stony-staring Ordell, dopily taciturn Louis and hard-bitten, tough-talking Jackie. The story wends through intricate ins-and-outs of money muling, bail bonding and basic relationships of trust. Talk overlaps with show, but Tarantino shows little violence—most gunshots, triggering the blood-slipslide of events, are offscreen. Tight shots of creased faces lead us through a line-up of dealers, ex-cons, and 9-to-5ers who've been around the block too many times.
Among the warbles of funk and soul, it's Jackie and Max who are the weathered souls. Jackie's not playing an angle or toeing the bottom line, but forced to scheme her way out to survive—a tough gal with her echoes of youth fading.
The racial tension's faint but charged, too. The lead cop offers a white sneer at this "44-year-old black woman desperately clinging on to this one shitty little job." Max sees through Ordell's OJ Simpson line of defence: "Is white guilt supposed to make me forget I'm running a business?" When gun-toting Jackie says "n——r" to Ordell, it packs power. (The gulf between that moment's immersion in working-class, black urban culture and Tarantino's n-word-spitting, ahistorical fantasy Django Unchained is vast.)
It's class—Jackie's $16 000-a-year job—that grips our heroine by the throat. The American Dream's getting enough to get out of a dead-end life. En route, there's one of the drollest sex scenes ("Well, that was fun." "Yeah, that really hit the spot.") and one of the slyest money hand-offs (split three ways by Tarantino). While Jackie Brown can get too languid, drifting like one of surfer girl Melanie's (Bridget Fonda) highs, its wearied, over-40 lows reveal Tarantino as a director who, once upon a crime, could've mined complexity and depth from the cracks and crevices of American genre movies.
Tue, Jan 29 (9 pm)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 1997
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