The story involves a flight attendant who gets a bit of money on the side by smuggling money for an arms dealer named Ordell. She gets caught by the police, and then she gets in the difficult situation of trying to keep herself out of jail while still making sure that Ordell doesn't kill her. Why would Ordell kill her? He's afraid that she might try and cut a deal and testify against him, which would put him in prison for a long time.
That's the basic story, and while it's a solid premise, the film lacks the "oh crap!" moments that Tarantino's other films had. In other words, there's no equivalent of a doped up woman getting an adrenaline shot in the chest. There is no Mexican standoff or a psycho cutting the ear off of a cop while dancing to "Stuck in the Middle with You." There definitely isn't a gimp.
What there is, however, is a well-told story with good actors and solid dialogue. Even better, it has one of my favorite love stories. I've written about this before, as I imagine that a lot of people who know me might be under the impression that I don't like love stories. I think that if you look at the reviews that I've done so far, you get a good sense that I really like a good love story. It's just that I really hate crappy or even mediocre ones. I like the ones that are either believable, like the one in Jackie Brown, or the ones that have a traditionally Romantic sensibility like Cyrano de Bergerac.
The love story involves Jackie and her bail bondsman, Max Cherry. I can imagine that a lot of people who expect your traditional love story cliches would be disappointed, but that's precisely the reason why I liked it so much. It's all very understated, and the film gives the characters time to get to know one another. Not only that, but it's not all wrapped up in a neat little package. The thing that really puts it over the top for me is the kiss that they share. I can't remember another movie with a kiss like that. The camera just stops right on them and holds it, as what was probably only going to be a brief kiss turns into something much longer and more meaningful. Not only that, but it's nice to see two actors in their forties get to do that. (Actually, Pam Grier was pushing 50 and Robert Forster was in his mid-50s!)
This isn't to say that the movie is completely devoid of colorful characters and wild moments. Samuel L. Jackson as Ordell gets to roll off a lot of memorable lines, and the scenes between Robert Deniro's Louis and Bridget Fonda's Melanie are really great - especially when it builds to the climax of their relationship (and I'm definitely not talking about when they had sex).
Jackie Brown has been described as Tarantino's most "mature" work. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I do know that it definitely stands up there with every other movie that he's done, and as far as I'm concerned, they're all pretty darned good (and for different reasons). One thing's for sure, it gets better with repeat viewings, and I think that a lot of Tarantino fans would do well to see it again if they haven't in a while.
Max Cherry: I'll bet, besides maybe an afro, you look exactly how you did at 29.
Jackie Brown: Well, my ass ain't the same.
Max Cherry: Bigger?
Jackie Brown: Yeah.
Max Cherry: Ain't nothin' wrong with that!