Quentin Tarantino references John Woo’s The Killer in the opening moments of Jackie Brown and this connection makes perfect sense. Both Woo and Tarantino’s films represent the most humanistic and sincere works by either director, something remarkable considering how these autuers overly relish in their respective styles. Jackie Brown opens with a wonderful tracking shot of it’s protagonist floating forward on an airport escalator. The credits roll in front of Pam Grier’s imposing presence, except the title card, which consumes the frame and Tarantino’s heroine. It’s as if he’s telling us, the name means more than the representation you see here, it’s legendary and iconic.
While watching Jackie Brown so many years after my only theatrical experience, I understand why it initially fell flat with me. Having been born into independent film with the more visceral Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, I felt Jackie Brown lacked action and didn’t warrant the same attention of those earlier works, that Tarantino phoned it in with a boring character study. Boy how the times have changed. Jackie Brown, both the film and the woman, are forces to be reckoned with, and constitute Tarantino’s most controlled and best directed film. He gets stellar, down right pitch perfect performances from Grier, Michael Keaton as the pursuing ATF agent, Sam Jackson toning it down a bit, and finally Jackie’s perfect male parallel, bail-bondsmen Max Cherry (Robert Forester). For the first time, Tarantino delves into relationships between people outside the realm of contrived story patterns and flashy situational dialogue.
Jackie Brown shows a moment in time for these low level players and their actions reveal how deceiving first impressions can be. The final image – Robert Forester watching Pam Grier walk away after what will be their first and last kiss – enlightens the heart behind Tarantino’s often frustrating masochism and pop culture windfall. Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s love letter to Blaxspolitation, but for once, the humanity of his female protagonist shines through, leaving the patented dialogue, the mish-mash story, and the visual suffering at the door. Along with The Bride, Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s finest achievement, one I never knew he had in him.