20 years of Jackie Brown: how the worst 'Tarantino' film is also his masterpiece
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Far from being his most popular or even well-known work, Jackie Brown is easily Quentin Tarantino’s best film. Yet simultaneously, his third film after Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction made him a household name, is also the worst ‘Tarantino’ film. All will become clear. Vast majorities of casual moviegoers and die-hard Tarantino fans unfortunately consider Jackie Brown to be his worse work. On both IMBD and Metacritic, excluding his Grindhouse double-feature from 2007, it is the lowest-rated of his filmography. It’s a tragedy for such a film that nears absolute perfection not to be as well received as Tarantino’s other works, ones that rely far more on cinematic style and gory violence, that care more about being ‘cool’ than about telling human stories and building relatable characters. Where his other works are an exercise in style, Jackie Brown stands proudly as an artful and incredibly mature depiction of human life. When people talk of Quentin Tarantino, they speak about what sets him apart from the norm, about the features of his work that set him apart and secure him a place in cinematographic history. One could argue that Tarantino stands apart in his dismission of convention, and that Jackie Brown skips such obvious ‘Tarantino’ hallmarks as his lengthy dialogues, his glorification of violence, atypical use of soundtrack, his manipulation of chronology, the way he melds subgenres, his cocky and in-your-face style. These trademarks exist within Jackie Brown, but are pared back, utilised with subtlety and restraint that make them all the more effective, rather than cartoonish and dare I say, egotistical, like many aspects of his other works. In short, Jackie Brown is not the film one would direct a Tarantino newcomer to, for it is the least ‘Tarantino’ of his works. However, it is his work that best demonstrates his directive mastery, and thus is Quentin Tarantino’s best film. The set-up to Jackie Brown is fairly straightforward: Pam Grier, the blaxploitation legend, plays the eponymous character, a middle-aged air hostess who supplements her low income by transporting cash across between Mexico and Los Angeles for Ordell, a gun runner played by Samuel L. Jackson. When she is caught by ATF agents with a large sum of illegally transported cash and cocaine she didn’t know she had. Rather than face returning to jail however, she makes a deal with the agents to bring Ordell down. Whilst working undercover for the government agents however, she also creates plans with bail bondsman Max Cherry, played by Robert Forster, to give up Ordell but keep his $550,000 fortune.
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