Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown (Miramax) may not have the immediate impact that Pulp Fiction had, and it may not have the same pop culture resonance (it might not do for Pam Grier and the Delfonics what that film did for John Travolta and Dick Dale, either), but, nevertheless, it is an excellent film that finds Tarantino back in the familiar milieu of suburban L.A.’s criminal underground. Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, the film tells the story of the title character (played by 70’s B-movie queen Pam Grier), a stewardess who has taken to delivering money from Mexico to black market gun runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). When Jackie gets busted by the A.T.F. (led by agent Michael Keaton), it becomes apparent that she’ll have to give the Feds the goods on Robbie to stay out of prison, and stay in Robbie’s good graces to stay alive. With the assistance of sympathetic bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), Jackie hatches a plan to get Robbie while delivering a half million dollars to him under the Fed’s noses, all the while keeping the loot out of the hands of Robbie’s stoner surfer-chick mistress, Melanie (Bridget Fonda), and ex-bank robber and potential psycho, Louis (Robert DeNiro).
This is a brilliantly written, deliberately paced film. It may disappoint those used to Tarantino’s more viscerally charged Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but even those purists will find some slick moves here to be sure. The main money exchange, for example, is done with a narrative device taken straight from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. And in true Tarantino-esque style, a few expected movie geek references are thrown in. Specifically, a nod or two to Jack Hill, who directed Grier in Foxy Brown and Coffy.
Tarantino seems so sure of his ensemble of rich and eccentric characters here that he’s more than happy taking his time to let the story develop slowly, giving equal weight to each character. The acting here is remarkable, with Jackson, Forster, Fonda and DeNiro all giving first rate performances. Pam Grier is never less than wonderful and watching her stay several steps ahead of everyone else in her smooth con is a major treat.