Jackie Brown is the only Tarantino movie — so far — based on a previous work, the book Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch. Inspired by Coffy and Foxy Brown — just look at that poster — and starring Pam Grier and Robert Forster, who hadn’t had lead roles in years. Although Tarantino took liberties with the novel, Leonard loved the screenplay, saying that not only was it the best adaption of his work, but the best screenplay he’d ever read.
Grier had been considered for Pulp Fiction, but didn’t expect Tarantino to call her back after that film was such a succes. When she showed up to read for the part, Tarantino had posters of her films all over his office. That wasn’t to impress her — the auteur just loved her movies that much.
Jackie Brown (Grier) is flight attendant for a Mexican airline who makes extra money smuggling for Ordell Robbie (Samuel Jackson), a gun runner and ne’er do well. Ordell is being watched by ATF agent Ray Nicholette (Michael Keaton, who plays the same role in Out of Sight)and LAPD detective Mark Dargus, who intercept Jackie as she returns to the US.
Meanwhile, one of Odell’s couriers, Beaumont Livingston (Chris Tucker) is arrested and needs bailed out before he becomes an informant. Odell pays Max Cherry (Forster) for the bond, then puts Livingston in a car trunk and kills hom.
Jackie’s in jail now, which leads Odell to think she’ll rat on him. He pays Max for her bond as well and the gruff older bondsman immediately falls for her. Odell comes to her house with murder on his mind, but Jackie has taken Max’s gun and they make a deal — she’ll pretend to help the cops while smuggling $550,000 of his money so that he can finally retire.
Odell’s partners on this deal are his live-in girl Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda) — it’s unsure if they are ever truly lovers — and his former cellmate Louis Gara (Robert De Niro). Melanie is based on Candice Rialson, the 1970’s actress who was in Pets, Chatterbox!, Moonshine County Express and so many more.
The law has a sting to catch Odell, but Jackie plans on double crossing everyone, bringing Max in on the scam.
What follows is a Rashomon like accounting of each person’s role in events that follow at the Del Amo Fashion Center, leaving just about everyone dead. Odell tries to take out Max and Jackie, but he’s led into a trap by the ATF and killed, too. That leaves our heroine, ready to leave the country with just a goodbye kiss for Max Cherry, who isn’t so sure he should stay behind.
This movie was pretty controversial — and still is — for the thirty-eight n-bombs thrown throughout its story. Spike Lee went as far to complain to Harvey Weinstein and Lawrence Bender, concerned that the director was “infatuated with that word.” But Tarantino saw differently saying, “the minute any word has that much power, as far as I’m concerned, everyone on the planet should scream it. No word deserves that much power.” Samuel L. Jackson, who has worked with Lee, defended Tarantino.
I kind of love that Sid Haig shows up to play a judge in this movie. I don’t know that he’s ever been on that side of the law before.
As for the characters, Louis and Ordell first appeared in Elmore Leonard’s novel The Switch. It’s a story about them kidnapping a millionaire’s wife, only to discover he doesn’t want her back. In the book Rum Punch, they complain that a movie producer stole their idea and made Ruthless People.
Bottom Line: If you love Tarantino’s films–and you love to read–you’ll love Elmore Leonard. Leonard is the Paul McCartney of writers: Less is more. All of Leonard’s books are zippy, enjoyable reads and it’s obvious Leonard is just as much an influence on Tarantino’s story telling as any VHS tape from his video store days.
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