Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown

• Tarantino, like PTA with Magnolia, made a young man’s old man film, an elegy to vinyl in the jewel case era. (Fitting that Max compromises with a cassette.) It’s somewhat self-fulfilling that a director making something about the difficulty of aging, of being a walking relic, would immediately retreat into the past — or pastiche — for the rest of his career. Reappraisal has hardened into consensus (on LB, anyway) but the trajectory his career would’ve taken had this been lavished with praise the way Pulp Fiction was remains forever tantalizing. 

• The opening sequence could go either way. Jackie is either running late to work (a job she’s “fortunate” enough to have, per Michael Bowen’s dickhead ATF agent), or arriving just in the nick of time. The former is likelier, given that the film is almost entirely about Jackie’s string of bad luck in a dead-end gig, but the latter also fits the badass screen persona she and Tarantino deconstruct. That dichotomy is part of what elevates Grier’s presence beyond mere stunt casting, the idea of her unable to reinvent herself.

• I like when Ordell is first in Max’s bail bonds office and introduces himself by asking where he can put his ash. Max, unamused, suggests a random mug. One can glean from the brief exchange that Max doesn’t particularly like people to smoke in his office. More to the point, though, he’s indulging Ordell. Why piss off a customer? Later in the film, Max and Jackie chat in a food court and Max recalls a story that illustrates how mundane but dangerous his line of work is. In the middle of this, he elects to say “cat pee” rather than “cat piss”. It’s subtle (and perhaps I’m reading too much into it because Max curses elsewhere in the movie) but it seems purposeful. There’s a warmth to Forster’s performance that prevents Max from ever coming off as a prude or a fogey, and it’s clear he doesn’t belong on either side of the law. He listens to, observes, and judges people. But he minds his business.

• When Max walks out of the theater in the mall, we see posters for The American President and Mike Nichols’ Wolf. Though Tarantino playfully withholds which one he saw by cutting to Ordell’s pissed gaze after Jackie asks him, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the filmmaker openly referencing contemporary cinema nowadays. He’s a little trapped in his own sensibility as of late. Can you imagine seeing one-sheets for Crazy Rich Asians and The Meg in a new QT movie?

• “Coughing’s good. It opens up the capillaries.....gets you higher.” Anyone who has spent time in strange apartments with strange people to get high has heard some bullshit like that before. What really sells this moment is Bridget Fonda’s commitment to Melanie, a beach bunny whose ambitions can’t be robbed by weed because her “ambition is to get high and watch TV.” It’s in the distinct, dead-eyed way she sits up to share with Louis this apocryphal cannabis factoid, how she starts talking faster, how her hands gesticulate. Watching Melanie, largely immobile throughout Jackie Brown, come alive for this is one of the funniest moments in Tarantino’s work, and a massive improvement on Rosanna Arquette’s explanation in Pulp Fiction for having a tongue ring in the realm of hippie nonsense.

• More than anything, I just love the vibe of this movie. Production designer David Wasco’s knack for laying out spacious apartments and beachfront condos stirs in me a wonderful contentment. And I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the vastness and chintzy commercialism of malls, which makes this catnip for me. Every time I see the Sam Goody in the background, it’s like a dopamine hit.

• Something that struck me during the scene in which Jackie is questioned by Ray about the missing half-million is Jackie’s calculated hysterics. It’s much easier to lie when you’re yelling as opposed to talking calmly. So when Ray eases up and looks at Jackie as if he already knows deep down, the suspense is coiled in Grier’s noticeably tortured visage. Insane that I won’t even get around to how astounding and hilarious Keaton is in this. Probably my favorite performance of his, comprende?

• Tarantino gets clever with his sartorial choices near the end. Once Jackie’s plan to swap bags is underway, she upgrades to the suit she’s “had her eye on”. (Even the sales clerk remarks on how badass it looks on Jackie.) Louis, meanwhile, is demoted to slick hair and a bowling shirt, while Ordell ditches the Kangol.

• Samuel L. Jackson gives one of the ten best performances in cinema history. Top to bottom phenomenal. Feel free to discuss.

• De Niro’s appearance initially comes across as a pointed joke: shutting up one of cinema’s biggest mouths with a bong. Eventually he does slip into the volcanic De Niro we recognize, but the context is different. We’re used to his anger feeling like the wrath of a vengeful god. Here, his Louis is too old, too tired, and too stupid to keep his cool. All of which only amplifies how terrifying he can be.

• Forster is heartbreaking as a man who refuses to feel sorry for himself: “I’m 56 years old. I can’t blame anybody for anything I do.” That incredible shot of Max turning around and walking out of focus after Jackie vamooses to Spain, all set to Bobby Womack’s hair-raising coos, sorta functions as an emotional key to Jackie Brown. It’s maybe the only film of Tarantino’s to exist outside of quotation marks and that moment feels like him allowing reality to flood in. It doubles as a crushing return to normalcy for Max, who has spent the entire movie breaking out of a 19-year rut. Seeing him swap Johnny Cash and spy novels for Delfonics and double-crosses because of Jackie never loses its sweetness. The scenes between Forster and Grier are always from Max’s perspective. We see her the way he sees her: an angel in a bathrobe, a goddess at the food court, the most beautiful woman in the world who just got out of jail.

• Jackie will probably be caught, right? The shot in the dressing room that stops cold for Jackie to self-reflect in the mirror (not unlike the moment in Boogie Nights when Dirk “flatlines” at Alfred Molina’s firecracker palace) at least suggests this possibility. She knows it’s stupid. But the thought of doing time or keeping up the Cabo Air charade is just too much. Tarantino revisits this conflicted spirit in the film’s final shot that surveys a range of Jackie’s emotions before cutting to black. It’s easy to imagine her running into Ray at a red light the way Butch does with Marsellus.

You don't know what you'll do until you're put under pressure
Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester

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