Not all Quentin Tarantino movies are created alike. I believe in other reviews of his films I have basically said as much. Jackie Brown (1997) is one that, for whatever reason, does not get talked about much amongst his total body of work. Everyone likes Pulp Fiction (1994), except this Catholic reviewer. Go ahead. I will give you a moment to rage against me. Done yet? Then there are the Tarantino purists that prefer his early work, like Reservoir Dogs (1992). I am also not a fan of that one. Need another moment to tell me I have awful taste in movies, even though I cannot hear you? Please feel free to comment below, if you must. No, I prefer Tarantino’s more recent work, except for the interminable train wreck that is The Hateful Eight (2015). Yet, if you are going to give me one of the earlier ones, give me Jackie Brown.
The title character in Jackie Brown is played by Pam Grier. She is an airline stewardess that has been on a downward spiral in her career for some time. These hard times have led her to work as a smuggler for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). He dabbles in the drug trade, but his main illicit business is gun running, making much of his dirty money in Mexico. Jackie has been bringing him the money from these transactions for some time. The people who have yet to find out about these activities are the authorities. This changes when another of Ordell’s lackeys, Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) is arrested. Enter Max Cherry (Robert Forster), bail bondsmen. Ordell approaches Max to get Beaumont out of jail, only to promptly murder Beaumont. Before this can happen, though, Beaumont had informed law enforcement, namely Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Detective Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen), about Ordell’s operations. As such, it is not long before Jackie is picked up coming back from Mexico with a load of cash. Her determination to remain silent is complicated when they also find cocaine amongst the thousands of dollars in her possession. Hence, it is off to jail she goes. Once more, Ordell asks Max to do the bail, but now Max is a bit suspicious given the recency between the appointments. With these suspicions in mind, when he goes to pick her up from the jail, he offers to take her for a drink. It also helps that he is attracted to her. She agrees, but otherwise politely, and in a friendly manner, denies his advances. What she does do, though, is take the gun out of his glove compartment when he drops her off at her apartment. She does this because she knows that soon Ordell will be paying her a visit, and she wants some means of protecting herself. With the pistol pointed at Ordell, Jackie makes a deal. She will bring $550,000 of his money out of Mexico. Ordell points out the obvious: that the police will be watching her. Jackie has a plan for that, too. This involves lying to them about the amount. Besides, what Agent Nicolette and Detective Dargus really want is Ordell. Thus, with her cooperation, they plan to set a trap to have Ordell arrested. She is playing both sides, and it is a dangerous game, so to help her out she turns to Max, offering him a portion of the profits. He is still smitten with her and agrees to help. Ordell, too, has his own associate to keep a watch on the proceedings, Louis Gara (Robert De Niro), with whom Ordell had once done prison time. Actually, Louis is more like Ordell’s muscle. At any rate, the stage is set for a test run of the plan cooked up between Jackie and Agent Nicolette. Yet, because Ordell does not entirely trust Jackie, he arranges to have another person pick up the money at their prearranged meeting spot at the mall. Everything goes relatively according to plan, except for the hand-over of the cash. The person Ordell sends to get the money makes another swap, though it is all observed by Max. Unfortunately for Ordell, the money carrier left town, meaning that he must find someone else. That someone else is Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda), a drug-addicted surfer girl that Ordell keeps in an apartment on the beach. Now it is time for the real deal. Everything proceeds as before, with the exchange happening in the same department store changing room as the practice run. With Melanie, though, Jackie leaves a tip for her. When she leaves, Jackie comes out of the dressing room claiming that Melanie burst in and stole everything. Meanwhile, Melanie makes her way out to Louis, and starts needling him about the fact that he cannot find the car. Having had enough of her, he shoots her to death. Thus, when he meets back up with Ordell, Louis has to explain not only why Melanie is dead, but what happened to the rest of the cash because it is not in the bag. Also, Louis talks about having seen Max in the mall. In response, an enraged Ordell murders Louis. This is when Max plays his role. He goes to Ordell and tells him that Jackie is scared and hiding at his office. Ordell promptly goes there, but is shot to death by Agent Nicolette and Detective Dargus. Though Agent Nicolette is a bit suspicious of the amount of money and other features of the botched exchanged, they subsequently drop the charges against her. Jackie then pays one last visit to Max, offering for her to skip town with her. He refuses, watching her leave, and that is where the film ends.
Jackie Brown has all the elements you would expect from a Tarantino movie, which also makes it hard to discuss in a Catholic sense. Unsurprisingly, drugs, money, and murder are not things in which the Church suggests we dabble. The next logical place to turn would be to the characters. I am not sure I can completely pull for Jackie. What can I say is that there is always the old adage that crime does not pay. Then again, in her case it does, but I would not recommend anyone putting themselves through potential death and/or incarceration to obtain wealth. The person I will talk about, then, is Max. Earlier, I mentioned the advances that he makes on Jackie. It should be noted that they were as gentlemanly as these things go. I also do not condone his abetting of her crime, no matter his relatively pure intentions regarding Jackie. What I do appreciate is his actions at the end when he decides not to go with her. What he does is see the good in her, and with that he seems content. This happens often in the Faith life that people will have an experience with God, and it leaves them wanting more. This can be a great thing when it leads us closer to God. It can also be dangerous when we get frustrated by not having the same experience at a later time. This underscores the importance of proper spiritual direction. Can God speak to us in the same manner more than once? Of course He can, and Salvation History is full of such instances. While it is good to look for these signs, it is best to be content with what we have with God while also looking to grow in new ways. This is by no means a perfect parallel with Max. I am merely speaking to that sense of contentment he seems to have at the end.
It will not be shocking to you when I say that I do not recommend Jackie Brown. At the same time, it is relatively tame compared to some of his other films. I prefer it to his other early movies because it has a definable, easy to follow plot. It is the rest of the material in it that makes me suggest that you steer away from it.