The Rear-View Mirror: Jackie Brown (1997)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Car trunk shot, bare feet, vintage tunes, Samuel L. Jackson: Jackie Brown is clearly a Quentin Tarantino movie, there’s no doubt about that. At the same time, while all the telltale features are there, the film is an odd one out in Tarantino’s oeuvre. Where Tarantino’s movies often have a jittery, adolescent quality in their characters, language and use of violence, Jackie Brown feels like a more… is “mature” the word? … a more mellow film. Compared to the excesses of Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds and Death Proof, there’s a grown-up quality (for lack of a better word) to Jackie Brown that is sadly underestimated by some of the director’s fans. At the same time, it would be a huge mistake to think that because of this Jackie Brown lacks the exuberance of Tarantino’s other films – and this is shown beautifully, in miniature, in the movie’s title sequence.

Jackie Brown

As always, it’s easy to say that some of Tarantino’s most effective stylistic flourishes were stolen from other directors; Jackie Brown‘s title sequence is remarkably similar to that of ’60s classic The Graduate. Nonetheless, detractors who call Tarantino unimaginative or derivative underestimate the extent to which his remix ethos tends to produce a brand of cinema that is entirely his own: even when you can point out each and every reference, the result is still 100% Tarantino.

Jackie Brown

In the case of the film’s titles, maths goes right out of the window, though, as the sequence is also 100% Bobby Womack and 100% Pam Grier. The combination of cinematography, the choice of “Across 110th Street” combined with Grier’s bearing is a prime example of Tarantino’s remix alchemy: Womack’s song is groovy and soulful at the same time and Grier is charismatic even when she’s just standing on the conveyor belt at LAX – but the combination becomes more, it becomes iconic and pretty damn sublime.

Jackie Brown

There is much to enjoy about Jackie Brown: the great performances (including one of the last times that Robert de Niro actually acted), Robert Forster’s melancholy Max and the way his romance with Jackie plays out, the blend of Tarantino’s buzz and Elmore Leonard’s more laid-back style. But if I had to choose just one scene, it’d always be Jackie, on that conveyor belt, being carried into her future to the sound of Bobby Womack singing:

I knew there was a better way of life that I was just trying to find
You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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