Jackie Brown (Collector's Edition) Review
After the critical acclaim that followed Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino became a modern cinematic genius; the hottest thing in the '90s and someone who had the ability to redefine Hollywood itself. Reinventing film techniques that had long been obsolete and putting a fresh spin on them, Tarantino's greatest asset was perhaps the element of surprise: there were few others who could match his style and panache. But, where could he go from here? Recent recipient of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his sophomore picture, someone who had helped put Miramax's name on the map – how could Tarantino make a third film that could not only live up to his predecessors, but also blow them out of the water? Instead of thinking up another screenplay of his own, he made the surprising move of adapting someone else's work (cynics will argue that all of Tarantino's work is adapted from another source; however here was his first 'official' adaptation).
Elmore Leonard – successful author of numerous crime thrillers, such as The Big Bounce and Get Shorty. Before Tarantino obtained the rights to his novel Rum Punch, with the intention of making it his third directorial picture, Leonard had enjoyed modest success and recognition from previous adaptations of his novels…Get Shorty being perhaps the most successful and well-known. After granting cinema's latest auteur the rights to translate his words to the big screen, Tarantino didn't just do a mindless screenplay that was a carbon copy of the novel – instead he set about making a Quentin Tarantino film that just so happened to be connected to an Elmore Leonard novel.
The end product was dubbed "50% Tarantino and 50% Leonard", an indicator of how Rum Punch had evolved into something completely different. A name change took place, not only of the title but also of the lead character – as well as changing her race from white to black. Jackie Brown, the African-American air stewardess in her mid-40s, was born. Pam Grier, legendary '70s star of blaxpoitation flicks such as Foxy Brown (note the similar titles…) and Coffy, was cast as the titular character, another typical Tarantino choice of resurrecting old character actors for modern-day cinema.
The plot revolves around the aforementioned sexy stewardess (Pam Grier), a street-wise arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), lonely bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), shifty ex-con Louis (Robert De Niro), over-ambitious ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton), and a stoned beach bunny (Bridget Fonda). And what connects all these characters? Half a million dollars in hard cash! Ordell Robbie's plan of importing the said amount of cash into the US from Mexico through air stewardess Jackie Brown is thwarted when the authorities cotton on and arrest Brown at Los Angeles Airport, as well as finding traces of cocaine on her person. Ordell, worried that she will blow his cover and turn him in, attempts to bond Jackie out of prison using Max Cherry, and then pay her a visit. But, with all this money floating around, these various characters soon start scamming each other and soon no one can be trusted…
In an interview shortly after the release of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino was quoted as saying after the success of his debut, his second film would be "underrated" but his third would "even the balance". However, fate had other plans for young Quentin and it turned out that the exact opposite happened – Pulp Fiction was hailed as a modern masterpiece, elevating Tarantino to even higher levels of fame and acclaim; whereas when Jackie Brown was released in 1997, the Quentin Tarantino backlash started. Critics accused it of being over-indulgent and overlong, an arrogant response to two fantastic successes. It bombed at the box office on release, and some even said it was the premature end for Tarantino.
Now, seven years later, it is time to set the record straight. Jackie Brown is not over-indulgent or flawed, in fact it's almost as good as his first two efforts. The more times you watch it, the more engrossing it gets, until there comes a point where it can proudly stand alongside Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. It may not be quite as good, lacking the hip edge that defined his first two films, but the few flaws in the film actually shape it, and the more mature approach taken show that Tarantino possesses layers as a filmmaker. The relationship between Jackie and Max is charming, the result of two isolated individuals spiralling through life without any real destination or understanding – yet when they meet for the first time, they click instantly. Regardless of her personal situation and his position as an authority figure, they bend the rules and come out the other end smiling.
The ensemble cast are superb, ranging from Fonda's beach bunny (nailed to a tee) to Jackson's terrifying tale as Ordell (who possesses a strange resemblance to The Crypt Keeper from Tales of the Crypt!). Even veteran actor De Niro proves that he can mix comedy and menace successfully, something that has been lacking somewhat in his most recent films. It's true that Tarantino can draw some career-best performances from his actors, again shown here by Jackson's perfect delivery of razor-sharp dialogue and the persona he creates: Pulp Fiction was not a one-off.
Technically the film is sound; mixing more matured and sedate direction with a perfect soundtrack that encapsulates the mood of Jackie Brown and defines each main character. The film is a mixture of funk and relationships, a crime thriller spun around complicated people and the way they lead their lives. Yes, it may be 15 minutes too long, drawn out to expand on the climatic showdown, but the rest of the film will capture and entertain; even after the end credits have rolled. Mr Tarantino, you've done it again – with style.
Originally released by Buena Vista on a shoddy flipper, with no extras, the time has definitely come for the film to be revisited on DVD. Presented as a 2-disc collector's edition, this handsome package has been dissected in full below.
The menus are animated well, with clips from the film and music playing in the background. They are easy to navigate.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the visuals are deep and well defined, with an extensive palette used well. There are no compression signs visible and the print is clear throughout, although the image is slightly soft. The transfer is good overall, but that’s what one comes to expect of a 1997 picture.
A choice of either Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 soundtracks are on offer. Of course, the DTS is slightly better than the Dolby mix, but there isn’t that much between the two. The surrounds are used occasionally, although the ambience level is just right – greater use of the surrounds and a more active subwoofer would have benefited the sound field and created a more enveloping soundtrack. However, the main audio stream is crisp and clear, while the dialogue is presented well.
Split across two discs, a handful of extra features can be found on the first disc. Kicking off with an introduction by Quentin Tarantino himself, the frenzied motor mouth announces how he wanted to make his audience "salivate" at the prospect of this collector's edition, so when it finally arrived it would be worth the wait. Instant skipping to chapters with soundtrack snippets and a subtitled trivia track are also present – and the latter attempts to make up for the lack of a proper audio commentary, containing some decent insight at frequent intervals.
The centrepiece of the second disc is 'How It Went Down', an original documentary – looking at how the film was made, featuring interviews with cast and crew. This is good, and isn't your usual PR fluff, although it does contain a certain degree of backslapping.
40 minutes' worth of Tarantino in full flow are provided courtesy of an interview with the writer/director, as he goes into even more detail and covers fresh ground, so it never clashes with the documentary. Well worth watching.
'Chick with Guns Video' is the full length cut of the video shown at the start of the film. Worth watching for seeing lots of scantily-clad women with heavy weaponry firmly in their grasp...
A fair selection of deleted and extended scenes are included, but they add little to the film (most are extended cuts – although some are fresh). Trivia wise, the DVD's certificate has been upped to an 18 because of these scenes...although in my humble opinion why the hell this has happened is beyond me.
'Jackie Brown on MTV' is a collection of two featurettes taken from December 1997. They involve an MTV competition (win $500,000 in the same style as the film), and short interviews with Mr Tarantino and Miss Grier.
Some trailers and TV spots are included, as are an extensive stills gallery and filmographies of the main cast and crew. The package is rounded off by a collection of reviews – Siskel & Ebert 'At the Movies' give the film their usual 'two thumbs up' after a brief review, and various reviews and articles from various publications are viewable on the disc.
Proof that Tarantino can employ maturity and diversity in his films, Jackie Brown was the first real test for the writer/director after two unexpected smash hits. Although some may be eager to dismiss him as a one-trick pony that ran out of ideas fast, this film has aged well and in fact, like good wine, improves with age. This excellent collector's edition finally presents the film as it was meant to be seen, aside from the absence of an audio commentary.