Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Jackie Brown (1997) Soul Noir

A great amalgamation of Blaxploitation, Neo Noir, and Elmore Leonard, by Quentin Tarantino.

This film is a lot of fun to watch, Tarantino weaves his magic in his Tarantinian way. Snappy dialog, check, pop references, check, soul music, check, low life losers, check, bringing back blasts from the past in the forms of Pam Grier and Robert Forster, check. The film is probably one of his more restrained efforts, but it fits perfectly for Film Noir.

Noirs were almost always about small time losers. Low key stories of life on the cusp. Tales that drift to the wrong side of the tracks. It's about poor schmucks who are trying to get by any way they can. And if in the process they have to step over on the dark side occasionally, and make deals with the boogie man, well, in this case, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a stewardess who makes the Cabo run from L.A. to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It's a bottom of the barrel gig. But Jackie makes do. One of her angles is that Jackie is a conduit for money. Money generated from illegal arm sales by one Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). Ordell has been building a nest egg. Current total is a cool half million that Ordell has tucked away in Mexico. Ordell is a cool operator who keeps on the move. He makes a circuit between his various hangouts. He's got a house in Compton, a surfer chick, Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) in Hermosa Beach and a girlfriend somewheres else. Ordell is breaking into his business, Louis Gara (Robert De Niro), a sort of befuddled excon buddy of his who just did four years in stir for bank robbery.

Jackie Brown (Grier)

Louis (De Niro) and Ordell (Jackson)

Max (Forster)
Melanie (Fonda)
Ordell's world starts going Noirsville when one of his dim bulb employees, Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) gets pulled over for a traffic violation and is busted for carrying an unlicensed gun. When he's booked, he's found to have prior charges and is looking at ten years. Ordell has got to move fast. He heads to Max Cherry (Robert Forster) a bail bondsman to get Beaumonts ass out of the slammer. Max has been in the bonds buiz for twenty years and he deals straight up with Ordell, not putting up with any of his jive-ass talking BS.

With Beaumont out on bond, Ordell makes his move. He goes to Beaumont's flop. A converted residence motel. He tells him he needs him to come along right now tonight, on a deal he's got to close. It's a hilarious sequence.

Ordell Robbie: Look, I hate to be the kinda nigga does a nigga a favor, then, BAM!, hits a nigga up for a favor in return. But I'm afraid I gots to be that kinda nigga.
Beaumont: Whatchu mean?
Ordell Robbie: I need a favor, nigga!
Beaumont: I'm ready, man. What's the problem?
Ordell Robbie: There ain't no problem, it's more like a situation. You remember them three M-60 machine guns I sold last year outta the five I got?
Beaumont: Yeah.
Ordell Robbie: Well, I'm gonna sell the other two tonight. There's this group of Koreans over in Koreatown, starting' this neighborhood watch thing. They need some weapons so they can show the neighborhood niggers they mean business. Now, I'm gonna sell them the other two machine guns, all right? The problem is, I ain't never done business with these Koreans before. Now I ain't worried, 'cause by and large Asians are very dependable, they don't want no trouble. You might argue with them about price and shit, but you ain't gotta worry about them shooting you in the back, you know what I'm saying? But I got me a rule: Never do business with people you ain't never done business with before without backup. And that's why I need you: backup.

Odell and Beaumont (Tucker)
Beaumont reluctantly agrees and follows Ordell down to his car. Ordell opens his trunk and hands Beaumont a sawed off pump action scattergun. Ordell tells him all he's got to do is get in the trunk with the gum and when he pops it jump up and point it at the guys he's dealing with. Beaumont wants to know why he can't just ride shotgun. Ordell tells him it's about the surprize factor.

Beaumont: Man, you must be out of your fuckin' mind if you think I'm gonna get in this dirty-ass trunk.
Ordell Robbie: We ain't going nowhere but to Koreatown, man. You ain't gonna be locked in here no more than ten minutes.

Beaumont: I ain't ridin' in no trunk for no minute, man. I just ain't gettin in no goddamn, dirty-ass trunk man. I got a problem with small places.
Ordell Robbie: Well I got a problem with spending ten thousand dollars on ungrateful, peanut-head niggas to get 'em out of jail, but I did it!
Beaumont: I ain't gettin' in no trunk. You catch a nigga off guard with this shit.
Ordell Robbie: Look here, look here, I tell you what, when we get done fuckin' with these Koreans... me and you go to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles on me... Think about it now... That ‘Scoe’s Special, smothered in gravy and onions...  side of red beans and rice, some greens... Thats some good eatin’...

This film is full of these amusing vignettes, and it's a fun ride. Everyone is jockeying for position. Odell wants his cash, the ATF and LAPD want Odell, Max wants Jackie, and Jackie wants her freedom and a payback from Odell. How all this plays out is part of the magic of the movie and it's the getting there with wonderful fleshed out characters that's a hoot.


Ray Nicolette (Keaton) 

Sheronda (Hamilton)

The film stars Pam Grier as Jackie Brown, Samuel L. Jackson as Ordell Robbie, Robert Forster as Max Cherry, Bridget Fonda as Melanie Ralston, Michael Keaton as Ray Nicolette, Robert De Niro as Louis Gara, Chris Tucker as Beaumont Livingston, Michael Bowen as Mark Dargus, Lisa Gay Hamilton as Sheronda, Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. as Winston, Hattie Winston as Simone and Sid Haig as the Judge.

Cinematography was by Guillermo Navarro and the soundtrack has cuts by Bobby Womack, Smokey Robinson, Brothers Johnson, The Supremes, Pam Grier, Bloodstone, Roy Ayers, Johnny Cash, Jermaine Jackson, The Delfonics, Minnie Riperton, Foxy Brown, Isaac Hayes, Bill Withers, The Meters, Elliot Easton's Tiki Gods, Elvin Bishop, The Guess Who, The Grassroots, Randy Crawford, The Vampire Sound Incorporation, Orchestra Harlow, Umberto Smaila, Snakepit
Brad Hatfield and Dick Walter.

Screencaps are from the Collectors Edition DVD 9/10.


  1. Wonderful post. Inciteful call out on the noir elements of this great film and the overall appreciation for QT's style. Thank you.