Jackie Brown‘s main problem is its length. It’s at least 30 minutes too long, if not more. There are scenes upon scenes that last far longer than they rightfully should. Sure, long, drawn-out dialogue scenes are one of Quentin Tarantino’s specialties, but they only work when interesting things are being discussed. In this case, for the most part at least, nothing interesting is going on.
This problem likely stems from the fact that this wasn’t an original work, but instead was an adaptation of the novel “Rum Punch” by Elmore Leonard. Because Tarantino wasn’t free to do more or less whatever he wanted, and had to work within the constraints of the original story, he couldn’t keep everything as engaging as he could in his previous works. He proved in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction that he can write entertaining dialogue, but in this case, there’s very little of that.
The plot doesn’t really get going for quite a while into the film. We meet our characters for a long time before this, allowing us to get a feel for who we’re going to be dealing with for the next couple of hours. The titular character, flight attendant Jackie (Pam Grier), is caught smuggling money and drugs from Mexico. She is bailed out of jail by Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), and then they two of them concoct a plan to get more of Ordell’s money out of Mexico. Okay, the lot is actually quite a bit more complicated than that, but this is the gist of it. There’s too much going on for me to spell everything out for you.
The best thing to say about Jackie Brown is that it feels like a more mature film than Tarantino’s previous efforts. There’s less self-indulgence in the way it presents itself. There’s also a larger plot with a focus on less action and more drama. This is important to note, because it feels a lot different from his previous two films. If you go in expecting a lot of action and violence, you’ll definitely leave disappointed; this is a slow-burning drama through and through.
In this type of film, you need two things in order for it to become a big hit: A good story, and good acting. Jackie Brown has one of these — the latter. All of the actors do a really good job in their roles, with the standout performances being those from Robert De Niro, Pam Grier and Robert Forster. Even Samuel L. Jackson gives a toned-down performance here, which is a nice surprise coming from an actor who usually goes over-the-top with his roles.
Unfortunately, the story is just a big mess. There are too many scenes that don’t matter in the long run, as well as a large number that are too boring. The finale is kind of interesting, but that doesn’t allow me to forgive the large amount of time wasted getting to that point. The ending ends up being an engaging switcheroo of an item, one that could easily be set-up in 30 minutes. Yes, a lot of the time is spent building up the characters, but that can also be accomplished in a lot shorter time than in the finished project.
The plot’s main energy comes from characters crossing one another, and then turning around and double crossing another character. There are so many double crosses that it feels that the plot is deeper than it is. In reality, it’s just long and lacking in actual depth. The characters are deep, but the story they’re a part of isn’t. This isn’t a problem directly from Tarantino, except for maybe the fact that he decided to adapt a novel which likely didn’t deserve or require an adaption to begin with.
If Jackie Brown served one purpose, it was to, once again, bring actor Pam Grier back into the spotlight. Tarantino is good at this; he can find actors who are on the downswing of their career and make them important again. Grier was at one point quite a prominent actress, starring in blaxploitation films like Foxy Brown and Friday Foster. Jackie Brown ends up being a similar type of film, paying homage to blaxploitation films of the 1970’s. It’s just too bad there are so few moments of interest until the third act.
I didn’t enjoy watching Jackie Brown. It didn’t hold my interest until the final act, and even then, it relied on the single gimmick of characters double crossing one another to get what they desire. While the characters were developed really well, the story failed to be engaging. In a slow-burning drama, the story needs to draw you in or else you’ll end up wanting to turn the film off. That’s what happened here — I wanted to stop watching. The ending is better than the majority of the film, but by then, it was too late.