8 April 2000 | Paranoid_Android
Tarantino sees off the backlash
Quentin Tarantino is clearly finding it difficult to follow the phenomenal success of "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction", which made him the hottest writer-director of his generation. In the six years since then this is the only time that he has returned to the directors chair. "Jackie Brown" - his "difficult third film" - seems to be his response to criticism of his first two films that he could only make movies about other movies, but not real life. He cleverly anticipates the backlash by adapting a tightly plotted, character driven Elmore Leonard novel, still set in his familiar world of LA low-lives, but keeping to a minimum his trademark comic-book violence and pop-culture references, while emphasising the novels more mature themes - such as ageing and the feeling of time running out for the middle-aged characters. The result is a slick, interesting, if slightly draggy thriller, which ultimately lacks the freshness and audaciousness of those earlier films.
Tarantino still has his maverick streak though, as displayed in his trusting of Pam Grier to carry the entire movie. The casting of a middle-aged black actress with no box-office clout in the lead role can't have been easy in an industry notorious for it's scant regard for actresses after they reach 30. You can bet that the studios would have at least insisted on the safety of a Sharon Stone or a Demi Moore. But Tarantino, as he did when casting Travolta, stuck to his gut-instinct, and once again it proved an inspired choice. Grier, bringing with her the memories of her 70's blackploitation movies, gives a convincingly tough, wise and sympathetic performance.
Actors love to work with Tarantino because the roles he gives them will be invariably jucier than usual. That is once again the case here, although the casting isn't quite as inspired as it was in "Dogs" or "Pulp" (or "True Romance"). Samuel L. Jackson is reliably good - if hardly stretched - as an unscrupulous hustler who is not as smart as he thinks he is, and Bridget Fonda has fun as his conniving beach babe girlfriend. Robert Forster jumps at the chance to play a role with depth after years in made-for-tv hell. Robert De Niro though, despite providing some amusing moments, is disappointingly wasted as Jackson's dim-witted partner.
At times this feels like just another thriller, but every now and then Tarantino reminds you what all the fuss was about. Jackson's brutal (off-screen) dispatching of Chris Tucker in the boot of a car, as the camera slowly cranes up into the sky, is masterfully conceived and a scene, which is subtly built up to, involving a teasing Fonda and a p*****-off De Niro is as unexpected and as shocking as anything Tarantino has done before. By refusing to make a Pulp Fiction 2, Tarantino may have missed out on some easy money, but this film has enough to suggest that he will be more than just a flash in the pan.