Judge Ryan Keefer asks the question...can the fourth film in a seven film directorial filmography really be considered a forgotten classic?
Our review of Jackie Brown (Blu-ray), published October 17th, 2011, is also available.
"Half a million dollars will always be missed."
After Quentin Tarantino's breakout sophomore success following Reservoir Dogs with the landmark Pulp Fiction, the big rush in Hollywood was to find out what Tarantino would be doing next. And damn if he didn't put a reputable cast together in Robert DeNiro (Heat, Ronin), his Pulp Fiction discovery in Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda (Point of No Return), along with the requisite Tarantino reclamation projects in Robert Forster (Delta Force) and, playing the title character, Pam Grier (Coffy). So how does Jackie Brown do when given the long-overdue DVD Verdict treatment?
Facts of the Case
This is another in a long running series of films adapted from books by Elmore Leonard. Films such as Hombre, Get Shorty and Out of Sight have been adapted from his novels, and this, an adaptation of Rum Punch, is arguably the most enjoyable. Grier plays the title character, an airline stewardess on an LA to Mexico route. She had been busted for drugs a decade ago, and is working for an airline that pays her $16,000 a year. As a side job, she smuggles money into the US on her return trips to Ordell Robbie (Jackson), a gun runner who, according to Forster's character, was "in the drug business, except the money's moving in the wrong direction." Forster plays Max Cherry, a bail bondsman who has been in the business for far too long, and posts a bond for Jackie after she is busted with a small amount of cocaine on her, a gift from Ordell's big client in Mexico. Ordell however, is getting pursued by the ATF, and wants to bring the rest of his money in from Mexico, over $500,000. So Jackie has to bring the money in for Robbie, while avoiding the very watchful eye of the ATF (including Batman himself, Michael Keaton). Hopefully Ordell's perpetually stoned accomplices (DeNiro and Fonda) don't decide that they want the money for themselves, while maintaining a good friendship with Cherry. Throw in the temptation to walk away with a half a million dollars, and the double crosses are almost as plentiful as Ordell's use of the n-word.
Despite Pulp's huge box office totals, and the impact it had on film in America, I've found myself watching Jackie Brown a lot more over the last few years. Why this movie didn't make more at the box office is a mystery to me. It's a well rounded film. The characters have been well defined, and they're much smarter than your usual caper film. During the course of their friendship, Max's morality ultimately conflicts with what Jackie may have in mind, and there's a poignant final scene that shows us what he's thinking. What also may make this the best Leonard adaptation that I've seen (and I haven't seen all of them) is that the main characters seem to be presented better than others in past films. Sure, we all assumed that Ordell is the bad guy, but Jackson's performance, combined with Tarantino's slant on the character created by Leonard, makes his role very enjoyable and very funny in parts. Frankly it's better than his role that earned him a Oscar nomination in Pulp Fiction. But hey, that could be the twisted humor in me, go figure. DeNiro's Louis and Fonda's Melanie have known each other (and Ordell) for years, and Louis has just gotten out of jail after a robbery sentence. Their "oh by the way" reminiscing is funny as hell and even better, taken from the book!
But the film is Forster and Grier's, and they interact superbly. Grier's performance is one of the better performances by an American actress in the last few years, and Forster's quiet resiliency to keep plugging away at his job, no matter how much the temptation might lure him away is really something. And no matter what side of the law the characters found themselves on, they're simply more defined and more grown up than in other Tarantino films. Let's face it, in the two Kill Bill films made after this and Pulp Fiction before it, the lines may be nice to hear, but everyone is watching them for two reasons; to see what '70s film genre he tries to revive next, and how eccentric the characters might be. And in all of that flash, there's some substance lacking, some real emotion. I like Ordell Robbie over Jules Winfield, I like Louis Gara over Vincent Vega, and I sure like Jackie Brown over Mia Wallace. And when it comes to Tarantino films, yes, I like Volume 2 over Volume 1 of Kill Bill, so give me a good character over a Klingon proverb any day of the week.
In the nearly five year timeframe between the theatrical and DVD release of Jackie Brown, we're treated to a solid, but still somewhat lacking two disc set. The video quality is superb, though there were a couple of minor artifacts that I caught in the film. The audio comes with English Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 sound options, and both sound very good. You find out immediately, when the opening notes of Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street" come on over the Miramax logo, that whenever it demands, the sound system will respond, despite the predominantly dialogue driven film. The gunshots in the "Chicks With Guns" video give you a good insight into how often the subwoofer may work out as well.
The set opens up, and immediately you find a two-sided movie poster, and a 16 page booklet, featuring articles from Elmore Leonard and Peter Bogdanovich. Tarantino provides a 50 second introduction to the set on disc one. Along with that, the first disc includes sneak peeks for the soundtrack, and the Pulp Fiction DVD. There's a trivia track that is a subtitled option on the disc. There's some good information there, along with quotes from the cast and Tarantino.
Since disc one is labeled as "The Film," disc two would have to have most of the extras, right? Eureka, they're here, labeled as "The Perks." "How it Went Down" seems to be an extended electronic press kit of sorts, with the majority of the interviews coming from the film's press junket. Aside from the cast interviews (including "ATF agents" Keaton and Michael Bowen, who drove that nice yellow pickup in Kill Bill), crew interviews with Lawrence Bender and Roger Avary, among others, provide some background information to the process. This 40 minute documentary has 10 chapter stops, which is a nice thing to see. The documentary mainly revolves around adapting the book, the decision to cast Grier and Forster, and the shooting of the film. "A Look Back at Jackie Brown" apparently is an older interview with Tarantino, where he is a bit more low-key and goes into a good amount of detail with the casting and his thoughts on the film. I think he was asked half a dozen questions, and he goes into so much detail, that this material runs for 54 minutes. If those who are new to Tarantino don't get a good idea of just how rapid fire he can be from this, then nothing else will.
There's a series of deleted or alternate scenes which run for about 12 minutes, not including a three minute introduction by Tarantino. The scenes really don't add anything to the film; however there is an alternate opening with Grier which is pretty funny and is worth a look. The "Chicks With Guns" video is included in its entirety, along with a Tarantino introduction. It's pretty funny to watch, and should be shown to any of the second amendment supporters in and around your neighborhood. There is a still gallery section, broken down into nine different areas, from production stills to behind the scenes photos. There isn't a lack of material here, as over 500 photos are included. If a photo was taken, it's probably here. There are a few reviews which have been included from such publications as Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and The Village Voice. The "Siskel and Ebert" review is included as well. Filmographies are included for Grier, Forster and Tarantino, and a series of trailers and radio spots for Grier and Forster's older films are included, over 35 in all. Yes, if you wanted to see the trailers for either Friday Foster, Avalanche or newer stuff like Above the Law (which Grier was a co-star), you're in luck. It's a pretty good nod to both actors. Over 10 trailers and TV spots for this film are included, as well as a "Jackie Brown on MTV" contest spot and a 15 minute appearance by Fonda, Grier and Tarantino on MTV Live (think pre-TRL).
The DVD-ROM portion of the set is pretty impressive. The appearance is nice, despite some doubling up of material from the other supplements. The filmographies and reviews are the same, and the enhanced playback track is the trivia track, but it has a small countdown clock to the next fact, which is nice. The trivia game called "Stash the Cash" is, in gameplay, much like any other. The earlier you answer, the better your score will be. Lots of fun trivia from the film is included. The screenplay viewer feature, for its money, is one of the best I've seen. The chapters are included just under the playback window in picture form, and both the chapter selection and accompanying spot in the script respond pretty quickly. Links to the appropriate Web sites are included also.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm sorry, but why can Tarantino do commentaries for films he did a day's worth of work on (Sin City) or for films he wrote (True Romance), but he can't be tied down for a couple of hours and talk about his direction or the productions he's helmed? Come on Quentin, turn that love of films inward to your own stuff. While the disc looks good and the extras aren't so bad, you could have done better.
Those who are fans of Tarantino have probably already snapped this disc up. If you haven't picked this up yet, you need to be looked at by a licensed doctor. Those who haven't seen the film should probably look into getting it too. Despite lacking a director's commentary, the movie hasn't looked or sounded better, there are a slew of extras, and one of the better DVD-ROM presentations that you're going to see. Oh, and you can probably pick it up cheap.
Go down across 110th street and find another case for the court, because the defendants are found not guilty.
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