Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is an air stewardess who supplements her income by smuggling for Ordell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson), but her career is stifled after being arrested in possession of cash and drugs. Ordell posts her bail, but Jackie hatches her own plot, asking him for $100,000 to stay silent while also promising the cops she will aid his conviction in return for freedom.
Persuading bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) to join her, Jackie smuggles $50,000, winning the trust of the police. On a second run she switches bags with Ordell’s new assistant Melanie (Bridget Fonda), who is then killed by his ex-con former accomplice Louis (Robert De Niro). As she plans an escape, Jackie watches the bodycount rise…
The prospect of Tarantino casting a Blaxploitation Queen for a Leonard adaptation was too much for some excitable media outlets to comprehend, and the hype started early, putting extra pressure on one of cinema’s newest auteurs. Tarantino responded with his incomparable flair for gutsy, kinetic thrillers. He also indulged his habit for rehabilitating fallen stars, exhuming the careers of Grier and the Oscar-nominated Forster as he had with Travolta in Pulp Fiction .
“She’s a desperate woman,” said Grier of her character, “and desperate people do desperate things.” Interpreting Jackie as the elder sister of her ’70s character Foxy Brown, Grier plays it note-perfect and remains aware that the heroine “doesn’t keep razor blades in her afro.”
By comparison, Fonda and De Niro have walk-on roles, but both manage a chemistry and dark humour redolent of Pulp Fiction and typical of the highly energized ensemble which is the director’s alchemy.
USA / 1997
Director and Writer: Quentin Tarantino from a story by Elmore Leonard
Cast: Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel L Jackson, Robert De Niro, Michael Keaton