Friday, February 17, 2012

Jackie Brown

I remember reading somewhere that Quentin Tarantino saw Jackie Brown as his "old man" movie, and I've always wondered what he meant. It has far less violence and pop culture references than his normal  fare, but other than the lengthy run time, methodical pacing, and older actors/actresses, Jackie Brown has always struck me as a 'hang out' movie more than anything.

'Hang out' movies are, to me anyway, the sort of films where the the overall plot is subservient to getting interesting characters together to do and say interesting things. They may be criminals, drug addicts, murderers, losers, etc., yet there's something oddly compelling about them all the same. 

They're bad people in good ways, perhaps. 

These are people we wouldn't mind hanging out with, for certain.

I guess what I ultimately mean is, everything memorable about films like The Big Lebowski and Clerks is due to the characters and things they say/do than any kind of plot or big important movie-style commentaries on, I dunno, guilt, man's own inhumanity to man, capital punishment, and so on.

The best scenes in Jackie Brown are top flight 'hang out' movie material. Robert DeNiro and Bridget Fonda are my kind of people: they lounge around a beach house smoking pot watching TV, drinking in the early afternoon, rambling about their pasts, saying incisive things (paraphrasing Bridget Fonda on Samuel L. Jackson's character: 'He moves his lips when he reads, what does that tell you?') and randomly deciding to fuck.

Still, there's something naturalistic about every interaction in this movie, from the way the two ATF agents (one played in wonderful eccentric style by Michael Keaton, who at one point eats a steak wearing a black leather jacket, which is worth infinite points on any critical scale) working with Jackie have an awkward semi-argument about the color of a shopping bag, to the way you know Max is falling in love with Jackie by the way he simultaneously falls in love with the music of the Delfonics, to the look and sound of genuine empathy and disappointment when Samuel L. Jackson's character kills Robert DeNiro's character near the end.

I guess that's a spoiler, but if you're really upset about that, you've missed everything I just said. You could go read the Wikipedia entry for this movie and get the entire plot and it would still be a delight and a pleasure to watch based on the performances and writing. I just love all the little details in the locations and set designs, too. Pay particular attention to Jackie's apartment.

Like the best 'hang out' and cult films, Jackie Brown improves with every subsequent viewing as you surrender to the familiar flow of the pacing of scenes and the rhythm of the conversations, DeNiro and Fonda's a sort of stoned, pleasant apathy, Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson's a tense, hypnotic, oddly calm game of wits.

1 comment:

thevoid99 said...

This is a film that I believe has grown to become a classic in the years since. In fact, I think it's among the most underrated films of the past 20 years.

It's taken people such a long time to realize how good it is. Because it's a Tarantino film, there's these expectations from him. Lots of violence, stylish shots, and a cool soundtrack. With this film, he restrains himself with the violence while trying to take more risks with drama.

It's a film where at first viewing, it takes people by surprise because it doesn't have some of those Tarantino characteristics. Repeated viewings do allow the film to become much richer and more intriguing.

As much as I'm excited for Django Unchained, I would love for Tarantino to try and do something like this again although it's not likely to happen. Still, I do enjoy everything he does as a filmmaker whom I will discuss in my Auteurs piece late in the year.