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Jackie Brown (1997)

A Tarantino with more soul than violence — Written by LaDiDa on 17.06.2010

First you made the ultraviolent Reservoir Dogs, which was great. The you made the also quite violent Pulp Fiction, which was even greater. Then what do you do? Something different, surely. Why not make a film about struggling with getting older (and obviously make it somewhat violent to let people know it's you)?

Surprisingly much of Jackie Brown fits within the getting-older theme. It starts with a scene in which blaxploitation film veteran Pam Grier passes by in Los Angeles International Airport much the same way Dustin Hoffman did in The Graduate (a coming-of-age film about a younger generation) to the classic sound of Bobby Womack's Across 110th Street. Later, Louis Gara cannot inhale as much blow as he used to, Ordell Robbie remarks that his Melanie isn't as beautiful as she once was, Max Cherry and Jackie Brown explicitly share their thoughts about getting older, and even bad guy Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson playing perhaps an even worse motherf*cker than he did in Pulp Fiction) plans to retire.

The film describes an intricate scheme in which stewardess Jackie, helped by bail bondsman Max, tries to steal half a million dollars from weapon dealer Ordell, under the nose of the authorities. Unfortunately, it never reaches the same level of intensity Tarantino's films usually do. The key scene however, the one in which the money changes hands, is particularly well directed. We see this scene three times from different viewpoints. The first has Jackie suddenly running around in distress calling for the A.T.F. agent, which made zero sense to me. The second run shows a little more of what is going on, but only on the third viewing it really becomes clear where the money went. Very cleverly filmed.

In one aspect Jackie Brown is actually better than any other of Tarantino's films so far: the music. Obviously Tarantino is pretty good in reviving old tracks and sticking them under scenes in a very memorable way, like he did in Reservoir Dogs with Little Green Bag and Stuck In The Middle With You. But unlike the other soundtracks, Jackie Brown's 70's soul and funk songs fit perfectly together. The Delfonics are name-checked by several characters, but even bigger highlights are Bill Withers' Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?, Randy Crawford's Street Life, and of course the aforementioned Across 110th Street, which is reprised during the closing credits to a devastating effect. These great tracks create a laid-back atmosphere that matches the getting-older theme, and also makes the relatively low pace of the film quite fitting.

If you want your Tarantino film to be action packed, you may want to look at the rest of his catalogue. However, with a great atmosphere and an awesome collection of music, I find myself picking Jackie Brown from my DVD shelves more often than any other Tarantino film. That does not mean it's a better film, but it certainly has its merits.

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