I've missed the past couple of weeks of Nathaniel's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series over at The Film Experience because I've been too busy to do it, but Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite directors and Jackie Brown is one of his best, so I forced myself to stay up late and do this one.
Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, but whatever else he says or does, one thing is always true above all else: The man loves movies. Any and all kinds, especially maligned genres. It's this love that guides pretty much everything he does. At his best (Kill Bill, Vol. 1, if you ask me), this leads to some deliriously fun, often subversively smart films. At his worst (the "Director's Cut" version of Death Proof), this leads to some serious cinematic masturbation and sprawling, messy films. Jackie Brown, his third feature, is definitely one of his best. I remember at the time, the standard line on it was that it was just a repeat of his prior success, Pulp Fiction - resurrecting a fallen star from the 70s (Pam Grier taking over for John Travolta) while playing on their history and revealing previously hidden depths to their talent, hyper-literate gangsters in a catchphrase heavy underworld, a pleasingly obscure anachronistic soundtrack, and even Samuel L. Jackson coming in to steal the whole damn thing out from under the purported leads.
It's hard to be a woman in Hollywood, much less a woman of a certain age, much less a woman of color of a certain age. Pam Grier had worked pretty steadily since her heyday as Coffy and Foxxy Brown, but hadn't had a real lead role worthy of her talents until Jackie Brown (of course the name harkens back to her previous success). But it's more than just a great part, written with her in mind. Jackie would be the role of a lifetime for any actress, but for Grier, it's one of those parts that takes not just her well-known screen persona but her whole life and adds extra resonance. Like Darren Aronofsky did with Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler as a more recent example, Tarantino uses Grier to allow us to have an instant connection to Jackie, and to make her final triumph all the sweeter.
It should have netted her an Oscar nomination, and most likely would have if she had been a man.
But enough with all that. This is Hit Me With Your Best Shot, after all. And, as is typical for a Tarantino film, Jackie Brown has a surplus of wonderful shots, so many that picking one seems unfair. So I'm going to do what I hate to do with these kind of things and go with the very first shot of the film.
It's such a sweet moment for an actress to reemerge onto the screen decades after her last big triumph, blow everyone else off the screen, and not only own but earn that opening "above the title" credit. So few women even get the chance to headline at all, much less take top billing when the likes of Robert DeNiro, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Keaton are also in the movie, and even less in a film like this one: A crime thriller directed by a young upstart auteur who is coming off of a Palme d'Or-winning, Oscar-nominated, standard-setting instant classic.
Of course, that introduction wouldn't be complete without its sister shot, the last shot of the film.
The same music is playing, and it's another long take, but she's fully in control now. She's behind the wheel, not being moved by an unseen conveyor belt. And she's singing along, taking in the lyrics along with all that's happened, feeling the simultaneous joy and sorrow that come from finally breaking free.
You go, girl.