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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

My 40 Favorite Films of the 90's - 8 - Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown (1997; Miramax)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
Starring: Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro,

Tarantino is a master at crafting complex stories with a large cast of characters and interweaving stories and in 1997, he would direct one of his best films.  Jackie Brown is both a throwback to 70’s Blaxploitation and the complex filmmaking styles of classic directors like Akira Kurosawa and Fritz Lang.

The interweaving plot follows a flight attendant named Jackie Brown who is drawn into a smuggling scam by a local weapons dealer and is then turned by a cop who becomes oddly enamoured with her.  Throughout the film, Jackie is constantly playing both sides (ala Yojimbo).  On one end, you have a tired, veteran cop who is sick of always doing the right thing.  Then, on the opposite side you have a disturbed arms dealer (Jackson) who is working out a sale to a sleazy thug (De Niro), whom Jackie is running money for by smuggling it through her flights.  Ultimately, the film focuses on a plan executed masterfully by the titular heroine to break out of the cycle in which she has found herself trapped.

Our lead character’s plan is reminiscent of Yojimbo, and the final act of Jackie Brown is a call back to another Kurosawa classic: Rashomon.  The scene is played out multiple times, once for each character’s perspective, until we have seen the big scam unfold from all angles.  Somehow, Tarantino reveals this over and over yet each time we see it we learn something new about what is happening.  This film is worth seeing just for the third act, which is a captivatingly-complex series of events.

Jackie Brown is a darkly comical and deeply intricate story filled with references to exploitation and b-cinema.  The film’s very title is a throwback to the 1974 film Foxy Brown, which also starred a lovely Pam Grier.  The mood, atmosphere and sudden moments of shocking violence seemingly out of the blue are distinctly “Tarantino” and this movie has one trait that is astonishingly rare: There is almost no exposition… at all.  Outside of the occasional reference to an association or what someone does, nothing is spelled out for the audience.  Rather, we see a very self-contained story play out as a visual narrative.  It is a great accomplishment in storytelling through film.

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