“Jackie Brown (1997)” Review

No one knows how it’s going down. Except for maybe Jackie Brown.

Why did I watch it?

I’ve had the DVD for 10+ years. In which time I’ve read Rum Punch, for a second time. It’s adapted by Quentin Tarantino. And it’s a sort-of companion to perhaps my favourite movie of all time.

Did it meet expectations?

Oh yes! My expectations for this were may and varied – I had expectation for it as:

  • Tarantino’s third film
  • An adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch
  • A sequel to The Switch and therefore the film to which Life of Crime was a prequel
  • Companion to Out of Sight

Tarantino’s Third Film

This is easily his best film (of those I’ve seen) far better than anything before or since. It has plenty of zinging dialogue scenes, vignettes and slick storytelling.

It also has his over-fondness for captions, though it’s so good we can overlook that.

Surprisingly, it has very little of the Itchy & Scratchy blood and gore that has become his motif. It’s actually less graphic than the book, or Out of Sight.

Rum Punch

It’s actually surprisingly faithful. It’s switched Miami for LA and Jackie is now Brown instead of Burke (and black and not blonde). Tarantino’s sense for character, and for compelling interplay, is a great match for Elmore Leonard. I don’t remember Leonard using the N-word anything like as frequently (if at all). That aside, it’s a terrific adaptation, one of the very best.

The Switch / Life of Crime

Leonard’s characters wander around between stories so freely you wonder if he had any authorial control over them. The characters of Ordell, Louis and Mel appear in 1978’s The Switch and in 1992’s Rum Punch.

Life of Crime and Jackie Brown have quite different takes on the characters – but then they change quite a lot between the books – there is, after all, 14 years between them.

Watching Jackie Brown I still had Mos Def and John Hawkes’ take on the characters in my mind – though Bridget Fonda’s Mel was straight away closer to my reading from the book, though I like Isla Fisher’s take too. Samuel L. Jackson quite quickly won me round; I never quite found Robert De Niro’s attempt at the drifter Louis quite as convincing.

Life of Crime is a very different beast, in the sense it’s a period piece, while Jackie Brown is set just 2 years before it was released.

Out of Sight

Soderbergh’s Elmore Leonard adaptation was released a year later. One of the characters from Rum Punch, Ray Nicolette, wanders in to a tiny role in the book, and Soderbergh cast Tarantino’s Nicolette, Michael Keaton, in this uncredited cameo (with the rights issues apparently smoothed out by Tarantino). So Out of Sight was in a tiny tangential way a sequel to Jackie Brown. Soderbergh also cast Samuel L. Jackson in a completely different but equally uncredited cameo, but we’ll ignore that.

I love Out of Sight. I loved Michael Keaton’s performance in it, so it was a pleasure to see him expand the role.

Also, obviously, I had to rewatch Out of Sight straight away! Bonus.

I love David Holmes’ superb score for Out of Sight. Tarantino’s brilliant mix-tape accompaniments to his films are always good, and Jackie Brown is no exception. (I bought the CD a couple of years ago, but haven’t listened to it for – believe it or not – to avoid spoilers, even though I’d read Rum Punch twice…) But it doesn’t match the cool cohesion Holmes’ score brings. Having said that, the way Tarantino has characters play the music in their cars, and then cuts between them like they have their own themes, is very effective.

Besides both casting Keaton, Tarantino and Soderbergh each take Leonard’s blonde female lead and making her hispanic (Karen Sisco) or black (Jackie). And the superb performances of these lead actors is absolutely key to the quality of both films. Pam Grier, a 70s blaxploitation star who I’ve not seen in anything, has terrific presence and charisma; she and Robert Forster as Max Cherry are superb.

A first rate film.

You should watch it if…

  • You liked Out of Sight
  • You’ve even the slightest admiration for Tarantino’s work
  • You enjoy reading Elmore Leonard
  • You like a good twisty caper

You shouldn’t watch it if…

  • You don’t like the Delfonics

Next up: The Shape of Water (2018)

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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