When I watched Jackie Brown when it was released in 1997, I left the theatre kind of swamped in disappointment. You see, it was writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s first film after his beloved Pulp Fiction and anything coming post PF is bound to appear not as good considered all the hype and anticipation that swirled around its release.
I watched Jackie Brown a second time over the weekend and admit right here and now: I was dead wrong in 1997. Jackie Brown is a really good movie and I don't know what in the world I was thinking eight years ago. It has aged incredibly well--or my taste has improved--is all I can say.
While I still wouldn’t put it in Pulp’s league, Jackie Brown is a gritty, interesting film with great dialogue, a wonderful cast of game actors (aside from Bridget Fonda who is hard for me to watch in anything—she better be glad her last name is Fonda is all I can say) such as Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster, Pam Greer and a low-key Robert De Niro set around an attempt to get money out of Mexico with some doublecrosses along the way.
The vibe of the story reeks of its source material (Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard) and then taken through the Tarantino cultural blender circa mid-1990s. In 1997 I thought the story was too slow in the first half with Tarantino taking too long to get to the actual criminal hi-jinks. What was I thinking? Now I think that is the strongest aspect of the film with the last third almost being anti-climactic as I was hoping to see the relationships between the characters further developed.
In fact, it's Tarantino’s patience directing this film that is the most surprising thing for me as I watched the movie 8 years later. He lingers over scenes and shots in ways I really loved. Combine that with his usual attention to atmosphere and detail and you get a great mix of filmmaking that makes me guilty I ever put this movie down at all.
Tarantino is kind of a polarizing figure in film. He annoys me to no end when I watch interviews or listen to him or see how he apes elements of other films. Yet, I admire his film geek passion/obsession for cinema and think he genuinely loves movies in such a level other directors pale.
His movies can elicit the same kinds of reactions. I didn’t like Kill Bill I/II at all as I felt they were lacking all the great elements of Tarantino’s films—the dialogue? What dialogue? It was too self-conscious for its own good. Kill Bill was Tarantino in love with his own swagger and showing off for his over adoring fans. On the surface it was quite pretty and alluring, but look below, the films were heartless, soulless, characterless exercises in Tarantino trying to be hipper than anyone else and showing he can reference other genres of films more than anyone else. Kill Bill I/II were failures and that feeling was immediate for me upon watching them. Jackie Brown created a more vague response from me after I watched it and who knows, in eight years maybe I’ll sing the praises of Kill Bill—but I doubt it.
I now think Jackie Brown is a better film than anything Tarantino’s done other than PF—that will never be topped—and shows how far Tarantino fell from this to Kill Bill. Maybe his next film will return to characters talking in wonderful ways but I've heard he's doing a kung-fu film in Chinese, so that's not happening. I have high hopes for a WWII film he keeps mentioning, but I'll believe that when I see it.