A couple of years ago, I was tasked with interviewing ~50 people for 2 engineering jobs over the course of 4 days. While it was grueling, the single most difficult aspect was making a distinction among them. There were those that distinguished themselves badly, like the guy who was a dead ringer for the Star Wars Kid, the one who showed up high, or the one who answered the ‘why should I hire you’ question with ‘I don’t know, that’s your job.’ There were those that distinguished themselves in a good way; outstanding handwriting, real world relevant experience, or a winning personality.
But that big portion of the bell curve? Flatlined. After three days, I took to calling these guys in the middle, Average White Engineers. Affable, smart enough to get an engineering degree, decent manners, zzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Once you got through the A listers, you could pick one of these guys at random, and you’d likely get the same result.
So what does this have to do with Jackie Brown?
Yesterday, we had a subthread that spoke of ranking Quentin Tarantino’s films. My rankings at that time.
1. Pulp Fiction
2. Reservoir Dogs
3. Inglorious Basterds
4. Kill Bill Pt. 2
5. Death Proof
6. Kill Bill Pt. 1
7. Jackie Brown (only cause I didn't remember it)
It had been at least 10 years since I’d seen Jackie Brown. I’d seen it, and kinda remembered liking it, but seriously that was about it. So, driven by a comment on a sports blog that is occasionally about sports, and armed with an iPad and a Netflix account, I sat down last night and watched it.
Tarantino famously does homages. Stylized versions of films he grew to love as a video store clerk. Jackie Brown is his ‘blaxplotation’ homage. Unfortunately, it falls into the ‘Average White Engineer’ category.
Jackie Brown is the story of an Airline Stewardess (Pam Grier) caught between the cops and the bad guy (Samuel L. Jackson) with some help along the way (Robert Foster). The big picture story is her taking back control of her life, by being just as bad ass as the guys. Robert DeNiro apparently plays that guy from My Name is Earl.
The film is shot with care. There are several moments where you look and you know you’re watching a good movie. The opening credits are a tracking shot of Pam Grier in profile on a people mover. The tile background a moving mosaic. Tarantino loves his tracking shots (long uncut shots that move with the action), and he uses several of them in the movie with good results, which is amazing, since the main sets of this movie are an airport garage and a mall.
The plot is intricate, but not overly so. Twists and turns, but none from so far out of the ether that it defies logic.
There are occasions of Tarantino brilliance and shocking moments. Samuel L. Jackson talking Chris Tucker into getting into his trunk then driving around the corner to shoot him (tracking shot), is the unexpected that you expect.
At 2.5 hours, the movie is 30-45 minutes too long. Most Tarantino movies play out at a frenetic pace, while this one runs a 6 second forty. There are multiple driving and sitting around sequences that seem to simply be filler. Maybe Tarantino was going for the slow burn, but it slowed the film down almost to a stop.
Lack of Tarantino. Per the timer thingie on the iPad, it’s 35 minutes or so until the first ‘Tarantinoesque’ event (not counting the lingering obligatory foot fetish shot about 15 in), the aforementioned Jackson Tucker exchange. Tarantino loves playing with time and perspective. The nesting boxes timing of Mr. Orange’s amusing anecdote in Reservoir Dogs and ending Pulp Fiction with a hero walk from characters who’d either quit the life or were dead from actions earlier (later) in the film are prime examples. The closest thing that we’ve got in Jackie Brown is watching a bag switch in a dressing room 3 times from 3 different perspectives. But the change in perspectives didn’t really change anything. We knew which bag had the money, and that never changed.
Robert DeNiro. DeNiro is a great actor, but his character here is a muddled mess. The character is supposed to be a former badass, who, after a couple of stints in prison and hits on a bong, has become a pot addled goof. His ‘shocking’ shooting of Bridgette Fonda’s character is out of character. Up and until the mall exchange, there’d been no hint of his underlying violence, no foreshadowing. It’s like Travis Bickle got a crew cut instead of a Mohawk and joined a choir.
Most damning, Lack of Distinction. Tarantino films usually have a feel to them. Ultraviolent, time bending, fast talking, and feet. That stuff is here, but is spread so thin, that it’s lost its flavor, butter scraped over too much bread (h/t Tolkien).
The hero (as opposed to heroine) of the story is Max Cherry (Robert Foster). Average White Bailbondsman who falls in love with Jackie. At least I think it’s love. He buys a cassette of her favorite music, risks jail time and death for her, quits his job for her, only he doesn't actually quit, and turns down a chance to run away with her, because that’d be a little too dangerous. WTF?
Max is bland and steady, but there’s an undercurrent here that he’s a badass. He’s a bailbondsman who talks of grabbing bail jumpers with the same steady description he’d give of getting his morning paper and coffee. He unflinchingly puts himself at Jackson’s mercy without a hint of fear or trepidation. But for all that, he basically just stands around in sansabelts and knit shirts saying ‘yep’ in a generic Midwestern tone.
And I think, as goes Max Cherry, so goes the movie. It’s basic and dependable, but not willing to go too far. There is an undercurrent of greatness, but it never manifests itself.
The structure and plot is better than Death Proof and KB pt. 1, but Death Proof and KB pt. 1 were fun and memorable. Jackie Brown…. Isn’t.
Also on here, yesterday, somebody was talking about Auburn’s Average White Quarterbacks, and mentioned the name Daniel Campbell, and my rejoinder to that portmanteau was similar to my conclusions about this movie.
Jackie Brown (Jason Campbell) wasn’t white, but vanilla fits.