I can't understand how a clever, empty style-fest like Pulp Fiction could've been praised as a masterpiece while others are actually disappointed to see that Tarantino has decided to slow down and focus on his characters. Here we have the same play on old 70's gangster clichés as in Pulp and Reservoir Dogs. However, it is done with depth (which critics didn't notice), flow (which bored critics), and refinement (which really made critics mad). I'm sad to say that those who are expecting Pam Grier to whip out a shotgun and preach the Bible will be disappointed. Here we have a story about what happens to gangsters in their old age, when they get worn out by an intense profession. That's not all it is about; each character in the ensemble has his own story. Grier, as Jackie Brown, is scared about the future, with a lousy job as an airline stewardess and a drug charge hanging over her head; she is also getting old and fears that her 'foxy brown' image might be wearing thin. Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) is a gun dealer who wants to retire, but is such a megalomaniac that few of his friends actually trust him; the odds of him ever being able to comfortably settle down are slim to none. He is also concerned about his partner, Louis (Robert De Niro), who just got out of the joint and seems to have lost the street-smarts (and even the regular smarts) that he had before he went away. Bridget Fonda is Melanie, Ordell's mistress of sorts, whose life has slowed down; she spends her time doing drugs, watching TV, and scheming against Ordell. Max Cherry (Robert Forster) is a by-the-book bail bondsman who is fifty-six years old and is thinking about getting into a scheme with Jackie.
The only main character without too much depth is Ray Nicolette (played by Michael Keaton, who plays the same character in Steven Soderbergh's dazzling Out of Sight); Michael Keaton plays him memorably though. Grier gives a triumphantly good performance, blending her 70's funky (albeit tacky) style and wonderful charisma with great classic melodrama. Robert Forster is just as good in a subtler and more poignant performance; what is most likable about his character is that the two main reasons he starts thinking about scheming against Ordell with Jackie is that (a.) he loves her and (b.) he wants to get his young genre-cool back. Samuel L. Jackson drops his flashiness-for-the-sake-of-flashiness from Pulp Fiction and plays a sad, lonely man in a world filled with friends who hate his guts. He wants to trick everyone into thinking that he is Jules, from Pulp, and tries to justify his life in front of others. But, in the end, he is a toothless rat, threatening others in a feeble and desperate tone of voice.
De Niro and Fonda are both funny in a relationship that turns for the worse and ends in a way that reminds us how fickle a life the crook can lead, one where relationships can shift on the whim of one's viscera. Spike Lee and others were infuriated by Tarantino's constant use of the n-word in the film, mostly by Samuel L. Jackson. This criticism misses the point of what QT is trying to do: degrade the n-word. The characters use it, and re-use, until it is drained of its terrible power. It is the kind of wonderful liberation that a nihilist like Spike Lee could never understand. Based on Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard, Jackie Brown is packed with twists and with characters discussing their next betrayal to the extent that we are never sure who is being lied to. But each twist means something to each character, which makes the film great. Tarantino is famous for his dialogue, yet his dialogue is not the kind of clever crook-talk that someone like David Mamet delivers; it is funny without the characters knowing that it is funny (the kind of funny that Elmore Leonard has always loved). Tarantino is really an old-fashioned gangster filmmaker, like Raoul Walsh, who doesn't rely on clever lines as much as casual cheer (such as the scene in Walsh's The Roaring Twenties in which James Cagney stuffs a cigar in someone's mouth). He has a love for cynical movies in a humanistic and joyful way that makes him rise above the filmmakers he loves. He cares about every character in Jackie Brown and is sad when one gets killed.
The film follows an old hit man (Emilio Echevarría) doing one last job, a young man (Gael García) who has fallen in love with his sadistic brother's wife, and a superstar (Goya Toledo) who lost her dog under the floorboards. All three stories are compelling and the major performances are all great-Emilio Echevarría and Gael García Bernal are particularly excellent-and the dreadfully melancholic score by Gustavo Santaolalla is compelling. Also, there is a car chase scene filmed with an intensity, stemming mainly from skilled sound mixing, that is not matched by any other car chase scene. I'd see the film for the raw materials, even if they were chopped up pretty badly.
The first half of the film has many hand-held shots of battle; pristinely composed shots that milk the telephoto lens expertly become more prevalent within the second half of the film. I'd see the first half of the film for the trite-but-enjoyable performance by Ryan O'Neal and Barry's delightful encounters with galleries of interesting and sometimes touching characters. The only reason not to check out at the 'Intermission' is the skilled performance by Murray Melvin and innovative cinematography by John Alcott, filmed with a lens made by NASA that allowed Kubrick to use natural light with interior shots.
Sometimes the material is engaging despite Walker but that is rare Oh, and then there's Faron-I can't wait to talk about Faron. Faron is a moronic Amish teenager who is bewildered as to whether he should move back to the family farm and live the Amish or if he should continue living in a trailer and have constant parties. Faron is a drug addict whose life is a mess of small ups and big downs. However, Lucy Walker must be dumber than Faron if she doesn't realize what a mess his life is and treats every up and down like an exciting new story development: Faron is in deep trouble with drug dealers for ratting on his friend and his girlfriend leaves him! (Sad music.) Faron skips town, plans to become Amish again, gets a job working for his father, and gets a new girlfriend! (Happy music.) Faron's girlfriend dumps him, his father fires him, and he moves back into his old trailer and starts getting drunk regularly! (Sad music) Faron goes to find ex-girlfriend to get back together with her and gets a new job! (Happy music) Faron crashes his car on his way to work and loses his job! (Sad music) Faron gets a job as a parking lot attendant and has some vague plans of going back to farm someday! Every single one of these plot revelations is treated melodramatically. And then the film just ends on an up-note (the great parking lot gig) without even considering the possibility that things will go badly later on. What about the guy that Faron ratted on? When he gets out of prison, won't he be angry? All he'll have to do to find out where Faron-the-moron is hiding is to watch The Devil's Playground. But that will prove to be an unbearable task indeed. Footnote: In this mess of a film there is one compelling facet: it is able to explain why a teenager would want to be Amish-an incredibly impressive achievement in the middle of an incredibly horrendous disaster.
Paul Greengrass is a muscular filmmaker with a highly personal style but I am worried that he may be on the verge of becoming a hype artist. The next film he got under his belt after this one was the awfully indulgent The Bourne Supremacy. The fact that he has made several films (some for TV) that criticize the British government makes me think he has convictions as a filmmaker; he isn't a style-crazy fool. I just hope that he makes the right choices Footnote: Bloody Sunday has been criticized as being an anti-British film; this is almost as absurd as saying that The Murder of Emmett Till is an anti-white film or that Schindler's List is an anti-German film. I just hope that the anti-British fools who keep running their mouths off don't continue to be thought as being in cahoots with Paul Greengrass.