With the groundbreaking success of Pulp Fiction, writer/director Quentin Tarantino had a lot to live up to with his next release and while he has not made a movie that has matched his previous successes, Jackie Brown is still a great film.
Based on the novel "Rum Punch" by Elmore Leonard, Pam Grier stars as Jackie Brown, a 40 year old stewardess for a low rent airline who also works for small time arms dealer Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) smuggling his gun money from Mexico to the USA. When she is caught with said money by ATF Agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) she agrees to help him catch Ordell red handed with a portion of his money.
Knowing full well that her recent arrest makes her a marked woman in the eyes of Ordell, Jackie convinces him that she can bring in all of his money under the noses of the ATF. But what neither side knows is that Jackie is playing both of them with the help of Max Cherry (Robert Forster) a bail bondsman who is falling in love with her.
Known to play homage (or steal, depending on who you ask) to other directors and genres in his films, Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s open letter of love to the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, as seen in his casting of blaxploitation queen Pam Grier and the films excellent soundtrack. But this isn't a blaxploitation film per se; what it is at its core is a heist film without all of the Hollywood gloss that comes with the genre.
The characters are real and are cast to perfection as Tarantino continues to revive old and buried careers of his favorite actors by casting Grier and Robert Forrester. And just like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction both actors give commanding performances, especially Pam Grier who more than holds her own as the lead of an excellent cast.
Samuel L. Jackson is great as the slick, merciless arms dealer who will stop at nothing to get his money, while Robert De Niro is also in top form in what might be his last great performance. Michael Keaton and the incredibly irritating Bridget Fonda are also very good.
Although the screenplay is an adaptation it is still undoubtedly Tarantino, filled with cursing and hip racial epithets galore, and chock a block full of pop culture riffs like his other films. However pacing remains Tarantino’s biggest flaw in Jackie Brown, with some scenes going way to long whilst others weren't needed at all.
What many love about Tarantino's films is his ability to mix flamboyance with depth, yet there are times in Jackie Brown where that balance is just not there leading to unexpected moments of, well, boredom. Yet thankfully this is countered with a great script, an excellent ensemble cast and an exceptional third act.