Quentin Tarantino's most straightforward film is his most criminally underrated film: "Jackie Brown." Unlike most of his other works which depict stylistic violence with Pulp Fiction-like narrative, "Jackie Brown" is a slow-paced, nearly three-hour film based on Elmore Leonard’s "Rum Punch." This change of pace, both stylistically and literally, may cause some Tarantino fans to either avoid or not like the movie, but this film features one of if not the most charming and intelligent female leads of all time with Pam Grier as Jackie Brown.
In brief, Jackie Brown is a flight attendant trying to make money on the side by smuggling in money for an arms dealer, Ordell Robbie. She gets caught by the L.A. Police Department on a flight between Mexico and Los Angeles and this is where the plot is set into action. The L.A. police officers propose to make a deal with Jackie and drop her charges on the contingency she helps them catch Ordell. She can either agree to their proposal and risk death if Ordell finds out, or refuse, take the charge and face time in prison. On cue, she meets Max Cherry, her bail bondsman who has seen it all but is burnt out. The rawness and wit of Jackie win Max over, and together they devise a plan to double-cross the feds and Ordell to flee L.A. with the cash.
The film is incredible for a vast number of reasons, but the heart of this film is its use of a soundtrack to tell a story when the dialogue doesn’t. Throughout the film, we hear soft soul and funk music playing when Jackie is onscreen that is only to be interrupted by the abrasive rock that plays for Ordell and his clique of criminals. That upbeat and rhythmic music surrounding Jackie gives us an optimistic feeling that she’s going to make it out one way or another. On the other hand, Ordell’s rock music is an unnerving trip that is taking us into murky waters. The music reflects the aura of the characters' on-screen clashing, smooth against rough, Jackie against Ordell and the police.
Another enchanting aspect of the film is Pam Grier's performance as Jackie Brown. Grier is known for starring in Blaxploitation films from the '70s like "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown." Tarantino alludes to Grier's previous roles as the woman in charge in the opening scene as Jackie struts her way through an airport in a blazer radiating strength. But, he quickly brings us back down to Earth when we see Jackie rushing to her stewardess position. Unlike traditional femme fatales in Noir, Jackie doesn't show her potential of power immediately. Instead, Tarantino allows Grier to portray Jackie much like herself. Like Grier, Jackie is on the other side of the hill looking back at a life where many roles have been played, but nonetheless, she is tired of playing at all.
A perfect example of Jackie reflecting Grier's sentiments on her career is in a humorous conversation between Jackie and Max. Max Cherry says, "I'll bet, besides maybe an afro, you look exactly how you did at 29." Jackie replies, "Well my a*s ain't the same." Max quickly replies, "Bigger?" Jackie smirks with a yes. Both acknowledge they’re long past their prime but refusing to disengage from a life they feel they deserve.
"Kill Bill," "Pulp Fiction" and "Django Unchained" have become mainstays of pop culture and continue to get referenced, and "Jackie Brown" has earned a spot right next to them. On the surface, it’s a lengthy crime film with groovy tracks. However, underneath there is Tarantino’s most mature film, abundant in subtext filled with subtle behaviors and sounds that blend into the scenes. For those reasons, we should come back to "Jackie Brown" and appreciate the gentler side of Tarantino’s filmography, because we aren’t going to get it again.