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Feature


Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight attendant with a rap sheet that keeps her working for chump change for a backwater Mexican airline. To help make ends meet she helps a gunrunner named Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) smuggle his money across the border. During one of her return trips ATF agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) and LAPD detective Mark Dargas (Michael Bowen) intercept her looking for dirt on Ordell, and find a stash of cocaine stashed in the cash. Jackie is imprisoned for possession with intent to sell, and fearing she’ll give him up rather than spend time in jail, Ordell pays her bail with bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), with the intent of murdering her before she can talk. Jackie anticipates Ordell’s attack, and strikes a deal to continue smuggling his money in LA under the ATF and LAPD’s noses. Secretly she forms a plan with Max to steal the money for herself. Meanwhile, Ordell’s beach bunny pseudo-girlfriend Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda), and his former cellmate Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) get to know each other.

 Jackie Brown Blu-ray
 Jackie Brown DVD
Jackie Brown is the film that finally brought me around to loving Quentin Tarantino. I admit I’m too young for this turn around to really mean anything, but I still haven’t been fully sold on the supposed incredible merits of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, so I think my affection for Tarantino’s generally less adored third film is still somewhat remarkable. I should probably be more specific. I love Jackie Brown. It’s one of my favourite movies of the ‘90s, I like it more every time I see it, and in many ways it’s still Tarantino’s best film. Pulp Fiction broke more ground for post-modern filmmaking in mainstream, modern American movies, Kill Bill feeds more into my love of exploitation filmmaking, and Inglourious Basterds is the biggest all around achievement, but Jackie Brown is a measured exercise in smart storytelling, and the aging l'enfant terrible’s most emotionally satisfying film. I understand that the film was partially created out of Tarantino’s desire to prove to his detractors that he could make a more adult, naturalistic film following the hyper-stylized, hyper-violent excesses of Pulp Fiction[I]. Even if it is a transparent experiment in sating critical voices, [I]Jackie Brown loses none of its objective value, which kind of proves the point, I suppose.

The credit in this case must be divided between Tarantino and the story’s original author (under the title ‘Rum Punch’) Elmore Leonard. Leonard’s story makes up the structure of the film, and without his bones Tarantino’s muscles and skin would dangle unaffectedly. At the same time Jackie Brown is still wracked with Tarantino’s personality, and is not a literal adaptation of the novel. Fans and critics alike know that Tarantino works best from someone else’s structure. Reservoir Dogs based quite a bit of its overall narrative on Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, but had almost as much basis in French New Wave and ‘70s crime cinema. One third of Pulp Fiction was based on an unproduced Roger Avary screenplay (most of the ‘Gold Watch’ storyline), but has even more basis in classic era film noir. True Romance, Natural Born Killers, Kill Bill and Death Proof were each a jumble of several dozen genre and story influences. Jackie Brown is to be the only film the Tarantino based specifically on a single major literary/artistic prototype. Stylistically Leonard’s prose also keeps Tarantino on track in terms of story momentum, and gives him a proper excuse to break from his preferred anthology style storytelling. Jackie Brown is still an ensemble effort (it isn’t the tightest script in terms of character), and there are plenty of cut-backs in time as the plan is unveiled to the audience, but structurally speaking it’s a rather straight ahead narrative.

 Jackie Brown Blu-ray
 Jackie Brown DVD
Tarantino’s punchy dialogue certainly punches up Leonard’s already reasonably punchy dialogue, but his bigger addition to the mix is in tone. He found a way to infuse the story with a sort of modernist take on ‘70s blaxploitation movies. Changing the title character’s race from white to black may have appeared arbitrary to fans of ‘Rum Punch’, but hiring Pam Grier was a calculated and brilliant move on Tarantino’s part. Grier made a name for herself playing hard luck, tough as nails chicks in classic blaxsploitation flicks like Coffy, Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby, and she carries all of this weight into the role. Jackie is the same hard luck, tough as nails chick, she’s just older and wiser than Coffy, Foxy and Sheba. The film’s story hints at Jackie’s sordid past, which can be imaginarily filled in thanks to the unspoken background Grier brings to the character. This history, and the genre theme it hints at, turns Jackie Brown into more than just an adept adaptation of a witty book – the film becomes a thematic sequel to an entire motion picture movement. It’s a taste of what happens to blaxsploitation heroines 20 years after they’ve avenged their sister, castrated the drug pusher, and put an end to evil in the hood. They have to return to the real world eventually, but they don’t have to burn out themselves out, and sometimes the situation calls for a little old school spark (though Larry Cohen beat Tarantino to the blaxploitation recall punch with Original Gangstas, and included Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, and Richard Roundtree in his cast). Tarantino doesn’t demand his audience understands this cinematic subtext, but those of us in the know get a little extra frosting on our cakes.

Tarantino pins a lot of the film’s success on Grier, and she shoulders the burden with grace and screen strangling charisma. She was always fun to watch during her early blaxploitation career, and her guest roles leading up to Jackie Brown were often among highlights of mediocre movies, but it’s hard to blame anyone for doubting her abilities in 1997. Her performances isn’t just fantastic, it sits among the biggest Oscar snubs of the ‘90s. Grier did get a Golden Globe nomination (along with Sam Jackson), but the Oscars entirely ignored her. For the record Helen Hunt won best actress that year, which I suppose proves no one remembers a performance just because it won an Academy Award. Tarantino had better Oscar success with exploitation mainstay Robert Forster, who garnered a surprise nomination for supporting actor. If Grier was considered off the Hollywood casting radar, Forster wasn’t even in the same ocean. His performance is a textbook example of understated cool (one might even call it medium cool), and his chemistry with Grier is arresting, making their on screen relationship one of my favourite understated romances in movie history. For some reason dirt always seems to fly into my eye during their bittersweet final moments. The rest of the cast is in top form as well, including Robert De Niro and Samuel Jackson, who invert and age the kind of tough guy archetypes they became famous playing, and Bridget Fonda, who pushes buttons like a pro, but the film’s most consistently overlooked performance is Michael Keaton. Keaton, who in a rare case of major studio synergy also appeared as Ray Nicolette in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (also based on an Elmore Leonard book), embodies his character’s negative cool and frustration, and reminds me how much I miss him as a more public entertainer.

 Jackie Brown Blu-ray
 Jackie Brown DVD

Video


Jackie Brown makes its belated Blu-ray debut with a solid, and relatively blemish free 1080p, director supervised, 1.85:1 transfer ( Jackie Brown marks the only time Tarantino has used the 1.85:1 framing for a full length feature to date). It’s always been Tarantino’s most naturalistic movie, and likely will continue to be, given his apparent (and lovable) predisposition for stylized camera use and colour timing. Jackie Brown is also one of cinematographer Guillermo Navarro’s most modest pictures, outside of It Might Get Loud, which is a documentary. What is immediately clear is that this transfer is much more colourful than the DVD version, and even more vibrant than any of the HD television versions I’ve seen. I’m sure plenty of viewers will disapprove of these changes in contrast, brightness and general colour timing, but I mostly found the new look appealing (and never saw the film in theaters, so cannot compare this to the original release). There is some blow-out effects, and some of the more subtle white details are lost in the shuffle, but for the most part a more acrylic palette works very well for the film, and the colours are pretty impressive in their overall clarity. My vote for biggest improvement from the DVD to this Blu-ray is the brief scene where Jackie and Max discuss her case over drinks in a low lit bar. This sequence is basically just black and red, with some minor yellowish highlights, and in standard definition the consistent reds are covered with blocking effects. In 1080p there’s almost no compression noise, and the black grain stays nice and rounded. That said, plenty of fans are going to be put off by how red some of the skin tones now appear.

Close-up detail, especially extreme close-up detail is quite sharp, revealing skin textures in even Bridget Fonda’s flawless face. Navarro utilizes mostly wide-angle lenses during medium and wide shots, so background details are relatively consistent in that they’re just slightly out of focus. Due to the general fuzziness of the DVD release I never noticed all the slight focus pulls during conversations before (keep an eye out). The more vibrant colour scheme and higher contrast sets some sharp edges even in the softened backgrounds, which is a little strange and blobby (sometimes it looks like a bad blue screen effect), but the quality of element separation is quite impressive. De Niro and Fonda’s wardrobes feature relatively complex patterns that are smoothed over in standard definition, along with some of the busier mall backgrounds, and the wallpaper in Jackie’s apartment. There are also very few noticeable aliasing effects on these sharpened elements, but I did notice some of what appear to be halo effects dangling off of some of the harsher whites (the ones that softly bloom on the old transfer). I was expecting more grain than this based on previous DVD and television viewings, but don’t really see any sure signs of DNR enhancement either (I’m thinking the brighter quality has just overwhelmed the granules). There’s certainly grain on the print, it’s just fine and mostly consistent (there’s a clear increase when natural lighting is heavily depended upon).

 Jackie Brown Blu-ray
 Jackie Brown DVD

Audio


Jackie Brown features one of the best, if not the best soundtrack collection of previously released songs ever, and I love the way Tarantino uses it to mark the different characters as they come together for the climax. There are only a handful of similar collections I’d even consider more successful. It pays homage to classic soul, funk and Motown (along with themes from other Pam Grier films) without wasting time on popular, overheard disco mainstays. I own a copy, along with copies of several of the songs that appear in the film and didn’t make the soundtrack, and I listen to them quite regularly. The music doesn’t feature a heavy rear channel support, specifically not any discrete instrumental elements, but songs with backing strings like Bloodstone’s ‘Natural High’ have a decent rear presence outside of simple echoes. The stereo effects sound fine, the centered quality of the vocals sound natural, and the bass lines are nice and warm. Outside the music Jackie Brown’s audio mix follows the lead set by the visual style. Everything sounds natural, as if only boom mics were used to create the mix, and very, very few elements escape the center channel (the ambience of the mall, and a airplane effect as the camera pulls into a map icon is really it for surround effects). The lack of apparent ADR leads to some slightly ‘off’ noise reduction effects in the vocals, but is otherwise plenty effective given Tarantino’s intensions. Many of the mix’s most creative design elements come out of the location of the camera in relation to the sound. A good example is the scene where Ordell drives around the block to kill Beaumont. The scene’s music comes from the car speakers, and the sound changes as the car pulls away, then off into the distance, where it disappears, then softly reappears as the vehicle comes back around the corner. All this sound sits pretty specifically in the center channel, of course, but still creates the general illusion of movement. Even aural elements that sound designers usually go to town with are pretty thinly presented, gunplay being an exception. When not appearing on Ordell’s television, where it’s muffled by the abilities of his set’s speakers, gunfire is punchy, and rings out with an aggressive echo.

 Jackie Brown Blu-ray
 Jackie Brown DVD

Extras


Most of the extras on this disc match the decent, but never entirely satisfying extras that accompanied Miramax’s original DVD release, but there is one new feature, a roundtable discussion entitled ‘Breaking Down Jackie Brown’ (43:50, HD). The roundtable is moderated by critic Elvis Mitchell, and includes additional critics Scott Foundas, Stephanie Zacharek, Andy Klein, and personal favourite Tim Lucas (I awkwardly interviewed him once concerning his book on director Mario Bava), all of who have genuine affection for the film. I was most happy with Andy Klein’s response, as he initially didn’t like the film coming off the high that was Pulp Fiction, but Lucas and Mitchell offer the most potent insight.

From here things get more familiar. ‘ Jackie Brown: How it Went Down’ (39:00, SD) is a ten part mixed vintage and retrospective featurette featuring interviews with Tarantino, producer Lawrence Bender, author Elmore Leonard, editor Sally Menke, actors Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, Michel Bowen, Sam Jackson, Robert De Niro and Michael Keaton, prop masters Steve Toyner and Caylah Eddleblute. It includes discussion on the book, changing the book, Tarantino’s influences, the cast, and included plenty of behind the scenes action, along with part of Keaton’s scene as Ray Nicolette in Out of Sight. ‘A Look Back at Jackie Brown’ (54:40, SD) is a rather inclusive interview with Tarantino circa 2002. Its length can be a little overwhelming, but covers a lot of ground, and between joyfully rambling about other movies Tarantino has some great stories about everything from talking to Steven Spielberg about Robert Forster, to the difficulty of using Keaton in both his film and Steven Soderbergh's. Also included is the ‘Chicks with Guns’ video in its entirety (4:50, SD), six deleted/alternate scenes with a Tarantino intro (15:30, SD), an except from the Siskel and Ebert at the Movies review (4:50, SD), a MTV promotional contest video (1:00, SD), video of the giveaway on MTV Live (14:20, SD), trailers, TV spots, poster art, a trivia track viewing mode, a chapter list that corresponds to soundtrack items, a collection of 13 vintage Robert Forster trailers, 19 vintage Pam Grier trailers, Pam Grier radio interviews, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

 Jackie Brown Blu-ray
 Jackie Brown DVD

Overall


Jackie Brown has been given a bit of the second look over the years, but still hasn’t reached the level of recognition achieved by most of Quentin Tarantino’s films. The release of this new, lovingly remastered Blu-ray release is the perfect time to revisit the film’s unique charms. The 1080p image is a little blown-out, and features slightly different colour timing than the DVD release, but otherwise is a rather sizable upgrade, more than I was anticipating. The DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t much of an update over the original release’s compressed DTS track, and the extras haven’t changed much, but there’s no real reason for fans to not double dip.

* Note: The below images are taken from the Blu-ray and original DVD releases, and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Jackie Brown Blu-ray
 Jackie Brown DVD


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