Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is the first Tarantino film I watched, so perhaps that makes me soft on it, but I do agree with Mark Kermode that it is by far his best picture. Of all his work it's probably the least flashy and stylish. It lacks the unconventional non-linear structure of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, or the bigger budgets (and the bloat) of Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. But it makes up for all that by having characters with a depth that isn't found anywhere else in the Tarantino universe.

It's the one film he didn't write from scratch, and perhaps we should thank Elmore Leonard for supplying that missing ingredient in Tarantino's scripts – real people. For all the blaxploitation genre signifiers, this isn't really an exploitation film, black or otherwise (for starters it's probably Tarantino's least violent work). Instead it doubles down on a twisty noir plot whose main source of intrigue is how it reveals different facets of the people wrapped up in it.

It's difficult to think of a film which uses Samuel L. Jackson's talents better – his Ordell Robbie is a fun guy to be around, sure, but he's also cold and ruthless in a really quite scary way. Pam Grier, who as an actress in those 70s classics Coffy and Foxy Brown could be rather flat, is magnificent here – being both outwardly steely but also at crucial moments letting slip the inner vulnerability and doubt that must be coursing through her mind as she conducts her heist operation. Robert Forster also does great work maintaining a professional distance whilst subtly suggesting the ways in which he's also being drawn into Jackie Brown's web.

Forster's character Max Cherry can't quite bring himself to cross the line at the end of the film. He shares a kiss with Jackie Brown but chickens out of following her to enjoy her spoils on a holiday in Spain. Both of them are heading towards middle age, and while never mentioned it's clear they've left many failed relationships behind them. They both want an escape from their dead-end jobs, but only Jackie Brown is brave enough to risk everything to grab it. And by having Max pull back and drift out of focus the film acknowledges how difficult navigating those risks are. Tarantino hasn't been able to replicate the emotional complexity of that finale anywhere else. Which leads me to think that perhaps he should try adapting other people's material more often.

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