I’ve already given, in the intro to my article on Inglourious, my general defense of Quentin Tarantino—perhaps the greatest filmmaker working today.  Certainly the most innovative without being pretentious about it.  Now, we turn to Jackie Brown—the film where he first really tackled race relations head-on.  And what better way to do it than to throw back to a certain film “movement” that, by 1997, was all but shunned except in parody—ironically because of the very self-righteous do-gooders that make things all about race?

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.  More on that another time.  Back to Quentin.

And spoiler alert, for those who want to be surprised at just how the caper goes down….

Editor’s Note: In April of 2017 writer Eric M. Blake began a series at Western Free Press naming the “Greatest Conservative Films.” The introduction explaining the rules and indexing all films included in the series can be found here. Liberty Island will feature cross-posts of select essays from the series with the aim of encouraging discussion at this cross-roads of cinematic art with political ideology. (Click here to see the original essay) If you would like join this dialogue please contact us at submissions [@] libertyislandmag.com. 


Certainly, the recent controversy means we’ve just got to take a hard look on exactly what Quentin Tarantino’s stances are on “race issues”—particularly in how black Americans relate to various aspects of society.  And lo and behold, Jackie Brown has the titular black heroine juggling tensions with a black criminal arms dealer—and pressure put upon her by a couple of…


Technically, Michael Keaton’s Ray Nicolet is with the ATF Bureau.  But I’m pretty sure that still counts as a cop.  He’s certainly a representative of The Man.  And as Quentin noted, a dramatic consequence of changing the race of Jackie (who was white in the original Elmore Leonard novel) to black means…a sudden racial charge to the situation—the kind of thing the whole Black Lives Matter movement presumes to point to as “typical” of “institutional racism”.  Certainly the tension isn’t lost on Jackie, who refuses to say another word until she can assess her options.

But once she does…something changes.  She enlists Nicolet in her scheme to come out on top—to clear herself with the law and at the same time ensure a comfortable living for the rest of her life.  And while, to be sure, she plays nearly all the major characters, including Nicolette…still, she’s developed a good dynamic with him—camaraderie, in fact.  And in the end, she helps him get exactly what he’s looking for: Justice brought down on a major criminal.

For the white cops, as it turns out, are not the bad guys in this film.  The criminals are, white and black.  And Jackie doesn’t lose sight of that.

Neither does Quentin.


Ordell’s established in Leonard’s novel as being friends with a Klansman, as they share support for segregation of the races.  Of course, he’s not fully consistent—see: Melanie as his token white girlfriend.  At any rate, while the Klan thing’s not invoked in the movie, Ordell clearly thinks about things in terms of race.  Aside from his cavalier use of the N-word, he makes assumptions to Louis and Beaumont about how he can judge blacks, whites, and Asians as blacks, whites, and Asians.

He softly taunts Max about the latter’s black employee Winston, even calling Winston a “Mandingo”—referring to the cinematic trope of pre-Civil-War Southern slave-owners holding gladiatorial wrestling matches….

Further, Ordell repeatedly invokes race in his excuse-making.  When explaining to Max why he doesn’t post bail for “employees” himself:

“Come on, man, you know how they do.  Black man show up with ten-thousand cash, first thing they wanna know is where I got it.”

Of course, Max doesn’t buy the race-hustling for a minute, subtly calling him out on it…and sometimes, not so subtly.  Ordell initially suggests Beaumont’s high bail might be due to “prejudice against brothers from down South”—and after a call, Max pointedly announces that it’s due to a prior arrest and probation.  Later, when Ordell tried to guilt him about Jackie and premiums, Max isn’t moved—leading right to the page quote, above.

Meanwhile, Ordell invokes the talking point about black incarceration rates to reassure Beaumont (followed up by invoking Johnny Cochrane’s defense of OJ Simpson).  Of course, that’s a con to get Beaumont isolated….

Later he tries to play the race card (and “evil-white-cop” card) to “pacify” Jackie.  Her response?  (Warning: Language—it is a Tarantino film)

Race hustlers are dirty liars and thugs—in the real world, and in Tarantino’s.


A brief line early in the film might seem to be a shot against gun manufacturers, as Ordell notes to Louis:

“They advertise this TEC-9 as ‘The most popular gun in American crime’—can you believe that (bleep)?  It actually says that in the little booklet that comes with it: ‘The most popular gun in American crime’—like they’re proud of that (bleep)!”

However, a few things to keep in mind.  First, Melanie later notes that Ordell’s “facts” are just meaningless repetition of “(bleep) he overheard”—false confidence, presumably part of his pitches to customers.  Second, he goes on to talk about how gun brands used in movies effect which brands are popular among his clientele…and Quentin famously denounces the notion that violence on film influences violence in real life.  And considering Ordell’s race-hustling throughout the film, it’s just more evidence that he’s rather full of it.

Meanwhile, Jackie makes it a point to “borrow” Max’s gun, in anticipation of Ordell coming over to settle things.  When Max asks the next morning if she had to use it, Jackie shrugs, “I felt a lot safer having it.”  Max even offers to let her keep it for a while.  But she’s got one, now—lifted off of Ordell.


Jackie Brown’s in a situation—caught between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, if she cooperates with the cops, Ordell comes after her—and even if she’s protected, there’s no guarantee she’ll get off scot-free.  She’s done that kind of thing before—and she still had enough of a black mark to damage her career, so that she’s just making ends meet as it is.

On the other hand, if she doesn’t talk, it means jail time—again, damage to her career.

All she has to get out of this is her wits.  And she’d better use them.

Well, use them she does—cleverly managing to work with both Ordell and Nicolet.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and she’s about to invent the heist of a lifetime—half a million dollars (spit with Max, the one person she can trust with the whole story), and exoneration from the law.  If this works, she’ll be set for life.

All that’s left is to make sure it works.


As I noted, Max’s sidekick is a big black man named Winston—and for the few times we see him, they’re shown to have a great camaraderie.  Winston may be an employee, but theirs is a relationship of equals.

As for Max, in the final scene he notes, “I’m 56 years old.  I can’t blame anybody for anything I do.”


Jackie Brown may or may not be Quentin Tarantino’s greatest film.  Certainly, Pulp Fiction will always be the film he’s most remembered for—and it’s definitely my favorite.  But Roger Ebert held the greatest film ever made to be Citizen Kane (shocker), while his favorite film was Casablanca.  Maybe that’s the situation, here.  I don’t know.

All I know is, Jackie Brown is certainly his richest film.  Pulp Fiction’s a giant cheeseburger meal—perhaps, say, a Royale With Cheese.  You could eat one relatively often, and be satisfied every time.  Assuming, of course, you like burgers.

Jackie Brown, meantime, is a fine steak dinner—the meal you save for special occasions, so you can always savor it as something special.  You don’t want to over-watch it, lest it lose that “specialness”.

It’s also his most mature film.  Now, when I say “mature”, I don’t mean in the “rating” sense of the term.  Actually, it’s arguably his tamest—no wild and crazy blood-splatters, and so forth.  While we’re at it, there are no deliberately cartoonish effects either—no real winking at the camera.  Even the classic Tarantino “non-linear” stuff is kept to a minimum.  It’s his most traditionally-structured film—albeit done “his way”.

What makes it so “rich”?  Well…while in all his films, “It’s about the character first”, nowhere is that more true than here.  Jackie Brown is very much a “hangout movie” in the vein of Rio Bravo…especially for Jackie and Max, taking time to reflect on their lives and what they have to show for it.

Amid all the pathos, of course, there is the right touch of comedy—especially when Jackie, Nicolet, and the other cop correct each other on the colors of a shopping mall bag.

It wouldn’t be a Quentin movie otherwise.


Around this point in Tarantino’s career, a critic noted that the man was far too concerned with the detail of the moment to do suspense particularly well.  Quentin accepted the critique as fair enough.

Whether it was fair or not (there are actually moments of great tension in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction—albeit, moments), we see in this film instances where he seems to be working on that.  Two sequences in particular.

First, we’ve already seen how willing Ordell is to whack employees who might have talked or otherwise compromised his operations.  And now, he’s heading over to Jackie’s place, putting on his gloves (as he had with Beaumont).  As they talk, Jackie keeps turning on the lights (clearly anticipating what’s to come)…but Ordell keeps working his way to those lights, turning them off, as he asks her some very pointed questions.  Then, lights off, he gets close to her—and there’s a Brian-De-Palma-esque split-screen, showing Max driving to his office amid Ordell’s interrogation of Jackie.

And then—we see Max open his glove box, and discovers that the gun we’ve seen there is gone

A click—and the Jackie/Ordell half of the screen takes over.

Second, as the movie nears its end, and Ordell makes his move for revenge, it intercuts between him forcing Max at gunpoint to bring him to Jackie—and Jackie in Max’s office, looking quite alone, bracing herself and preparing her aim….

Not quite on the level of the opening of Inglourious—but it certainly does the job.


Quentin has a famous knack for giving former stars a shot at a renaissance.  Most famously, he “brought back” John Travolta, with Pulp Fiction.  Here…he did the same for two actors, this time.

Pam Grier was one of the major superstars of the 1970s—the main heroine of the Blaxploitation era.  As Quentin often notes, for the first time we saw a female action star—“Strong Female Character”—who didn’t sacrifice her femininity in order to get there.  She embraced her womanhood, using it as a strength—and thus, when we saw her fighting the bad guys and saving the day, we accepted it as “for real”, and cheered her one.  Pam, essentially, was the Angelina Jolie of her day.

And then, after the untimely demise of Blaxploitation, she was pretty much forgotten about.  Until now.

Here, Quentin gave her a meaty role to acknowledge that she may not be young enough to convincingly play an action heroine…but she’s as powerful a presence as ever—lovely, confident, and strong.  And Jackie’s a survivor—staying afloat by keeping her wits about her, facing the day with a cool head, a quiet dignity, and a wry sense of humor.  Not that it keeps her from fear—tensing up when she first encounters Max, wondering if he’s been sent to kill her.

Pam also beautifully explodes with authoritative rage as Jackie turns the tables on Ordell, the first time…regaining her cool as she gets him sitting down.

With Max, we see her opening up—vulnerable, admitting her fears of having to start over, especially at this late hour.  And from that vulnerability, comes her motivation to do whatever it takes.


Forster’s the other star whose career Quentin revived, with this film.  Here, he plays bail bondsman Max Cherry as the sort of fellow who, in another life, could’ve been an old-time hard-boiled private eye.  But he’s older, now—like Jackie—and that brings a seen-it-all disenchantment to this old-school tough guy.  He’s go-along-get-along—while he pretty quickly deduces Ordell’s criminality to the man’s face, he verbally shrugs it off with “more power to you”.  He doesn’t have a place for idealism, anyway.  Not in his line of work.

That changes when this private eye finds his own “dangerous dame”—Jackie.  Not quite love at first sight (unless that’s how you interpret the “Natural High” sequence), but something about her moves him to form an emotional connection.  And that motivates him to maybe go for something more than his cynical sort of job…and help out Jackie in her plan.

In the lines of Forster’s face and the set of his eyes, we see Max Cherry’s world-weariness, the detached dark amusement at the world around him…and the hidden sweet side, the heart that goes out to Jackie.


It’s quite interesting how, after the Jackie-centric opening credits, she seems to disappear for much of the first act of the film—not coming back until after a 25-minute stretch focusing on Ordell and his criminal operation.  Indeed, until Jackie’s re-introduced, one could almost swear that Ordell is the main character.

No matter.  Ordell commands the screen—to the surprise of no one.  After all, look who’s playing him!

At any rate, we see a full arc for the man.  He starts out a “cool”, “chill” sorta brother—stylish and swaggering, and likable.  And yet, we soon come to see he’s a truly dangerous man—willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, and “go all the way”.  And so, throughout the film, we’re both charmed by Ordell and scared of him…wondering whether he’ll catch on the Jackie, and kill her.

Once Jackie’s heist succeeds, Ordell’s rage kicks in—and the charm degrades, the scariness coming out in full force.  Symbolically, his long hair—tied back in a clear ponytail for most of the film—is out and about, making him resemble a savage beast…on the prowl, ready for the kill.

On a side note: One of Roger Ebert’s favorite moments in the film comes when Ordell realizes he’s been had.  He has Louis pull the truck over…and he thinks, mulling over what just happened in silence.  Most films don’t allow a character that kind of pause, in that kind of moment.  This one does…and it underlines how intelligent Ordell really is, despite being played for a sap.


Robert De Niro has a seemingly small role for an actor like him—Louis, a washed-out ex-con who’s pretty lethargic.  He doesn’t seem to have much of a presence.  So why was De Niro cast for this part?

Well…as any Method actor of De Niro’s caliber knows well, it’s the little things.  The moments of Louis lumbering around, once a successful criminal and partner to Ordell, now drained of his former motivation—and he refuses to see it.  And when he finally gets his energy back—ironically over his frustrations with Melanie—it’s a joy to behold, for fans of De Niro.  His ranting and arguing with Ordell reminds one of his Scorsese roles.

Speaking of Melanie, Bridget Fonda is also excellent as the hopelessly petty and shallow “beach bunny”, who on the one hand just wants to lounge around and act out…and on the other hand, do whatever she can to control her little world—and anyone who stumbles into it.

Michael Keaton brings his classic “possibly shady, possibly charming” demeanor as Ray Nicolette—the charm that fits a slick con artist or a playful yet awkward Bruce Wayne.  And that’s the point—is he Jackie’s friend, or enemy?  We see him through Jackie’s eyes, and realize along with her that he’s on the straight and narrow, after all.

Chris Tucker has a hilarious turn as Beaumont.  It’s technically a glorified cameo, but he milks the heck out of it, as only Chris Tucker can.  His ranting about why he will not climb into that dirty-(bleep) trunk is absolutely classic—and precious, in a good way.  The Chris Tucker way.

It’s enough to make one forget his worse-than-unnecessary appearance in The Fifth Element.



As the Miramax logo scrolls across the screen, Bobby Womack’s “Across 100th Street” kicks in, pulling us into the mood.  Amid the opening credits—and our first visual introduction to Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown—we hear Womack sing:, Bobby Womack’s “Across 100th Street” kicks in, pulling us into the mood.  Amid the opening credits—and our first visual introduction to Pam Grier’s Jackie Brown—we hear Womack sing:

I was the third brother of five,

Doing whatever I had to do to survive.

I’m not saying what I did was all right.

Trying to break out of the ghetto is a day-to-day fight.

His singing perfectly underlines Jackie’s struggles, as if a Greek Chorus, commenting on the action.

As for Jackie, she’s introduced with an initial aura of greatness—confident, cool, walking down the airport in her flight attendant’s uniform with a small smile, as if she rules her world.  And why not?  She is, after all, the magnificent Pam Grier.

But then, suddenly, we see her get a little tense…then a bit fidgety—and then she breaks into a jog, and then a mad dash as she rushes to her spot, boarding passengers onto the flight.

And so, before a single word is spoken, we already feel as though we know Jackie—her potential, and sense of dignity and poise…and the hint of tragedy, as this Great woman is reduced to rushing to a “small” job that shouldbe, by all accounts, beneath her.

A golden example of what great cinema can do.


Aside from his legendary dialogue and use of non-linear plotting, one of the things Quentin’s most known for is his use of pre-established songs and music.  Most memorably, there’s that scene in Reservoir Dogs, with Steelers Wheel’s “Stuck In The Middle With You”.  My personal favorite’s the montage in Pulp Fiction set to The Centurions’ “Bullwinkle Part II”—the sequence that inspired me to get into filmmaking.

Here, following “Across 110th Street” (reprised in the final scene to underline Jackie’s triumph), there’s The Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”, serving as the motif for Max’s relationship with Jackie…and Randy Crawford’s “Street Life”, filling our ears as Jackie and Max drive up to the mall, the climax at last underway.  If a film’s soundtrack truly is the direct descendant of the Greek Chorus, Tarantino knows it full well—and channels it to full effect.

There’s also The Meters’ “Cissy Strut”, powering the Ordell-centric first act (with a softer piece for the second act, and a funky and energetic track for the third); Brothers Johnson’s “Strawberry Letter 23” playing on Ordell’s car speakers as he prepares to “let go” of Beaumont; the Coffy theme as Jackie carries out her part of the heist…and so on.

Incidentally, Quentin’s often noted that a duel interpretation’s long arisen over the scene where Jackie walks out of prison, and Max first sees her, amid the soundtrack playing the soft and mellow soul hit, Bloodstone’s “Natural High”:

Is it “love at first sight” for Max?  Or an underlining of audience sympathy for the magnificent Pam Grier, nearly broken as she walks out of prison, her life seemingly in shambles?  As Quentin put it, whichever one it is pretty much depends on you.  White audiences tend to go with the former—black audiences with the latter.


As most cinephiles know, Tarantino’s a bit notorious when it comes to non-linear plots.  Here, it’s milder than usual—mostly limited to quick little “explanation” flashbacks that don’t really stick out—we’re used to that kind of thing in “traditional” movies.

The big heist in the climax has it in full force, however—thought to be fair, it was in the original novel.  Still, we have the heist ran through three times—each time from a different perspective (Jackie’s, then Louis’s and Melanie’s, then Max’s), each time revealing a little more, until finally all is revealed.  Why did Jackie leave the bag with the money in the dressing room?

Well…you didn’t really think Max was just around for emotional support, did you?


To all those who can’t accept that Quentin Tarantino is capable of putting “heart/soul” in his movies, I point to that wonderful sequence between Jackie and Max, as they connect over how they ain’t getting any younger.

“Ain’t nothing wrong with that.”

As time goes on, they connect more and more—Max admitting to her he’s decided to retire…and his reasons why.  And it just might develop into something called love.  (Meaningfully, during the heist, he makes a reference to his “wife”, talking to the store clerk.)

Meanwhile, we see Louis, trying to “get back in the game” after release from prison, trying to form some kind of emotional connections of his own—whether he wants to admit it or not.  He clearly thinks he’s forming one with Melanie—and doesn’t realize until too late that she’s just as shallow as she lets on.  And in the meantime, his refusal to acknowledge that he’s not as quick as he used to be leads to an ultimate clash with Ordell, who bemoans how Louis “used to be beautiful!”

Max and Jackie are honest about themselves—and this leads to a truly meaningful dynamic between the two of them.  Alas, Max has had enough adventure for now…so after one last kiss, they go their separate ways in the end.

For now, at least.


During the opening credits, a portly man briefly follows Jackie after she passes through the metal detectors.  He may or may not be Danny DeVito—who served as one of the producers of the film.  Why he’s never had a major on-camera role in a Tarantino film, I couldn’t tell you.

The man being interviewed on television when Ordell heads to Beaumont’s place is acting legend Tony Curtis.  Couldn’t tell you exactly where the clip’s from.  Well, nobody’s perfect.

One of the movies we see Melanie watching is Dirty Mary Crazy Larry—staring Brigit Fonda’s father, Peter Fonda of Easy Rider fame—son of Henry and brother of Jane.  Yeah, it’s a big family, isn’t it?

Nicolette’s wisecracks about “those people in Customs” sound quite “hilarious in hindsight”, if you remember that Obama-era stuff about the TSA getting quite, um, notorious….

Speaking of Nicolette, Michael Keaton reprised his role as the agent in Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight—also based on an Elmore Leonard novel.  It was Quentin who convinced Miramax to “share” the rights to the character—and Keaton playing him.

Sid Haig, who cameos as a judge, co-starred with Pam Grier enough so that in the first take, Pam burst out laughing in recognition!  Also, Denise Crosby—Tasha Yar to Star Trek: The Next Generation fans—plays Jackie’s lawyer.

Quentin Tarantino’s cameo in this film is the voice of Jackie’s answering machine.

Take a look at the Casting Director’s name in the opening credits, for a quick chuckle.  Pure coincidence.


Buy the movie here.  And stay film-friendly, my friends.

Any recommendations for films to make this series?  Read the rules, here, and let us know!


Eric M. Blake Bio:

Team Writer at Western Free Press

Eric M. Blake is a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and a Master’s in Film Studies.  As that implies, he is very passionate about political theory and filmmaking–and the connections between the two.  Inspired by Andrew Breitbart’s axiom that “Politics is downstream from culture”, he is deeply fascinated by the great influence that popular culture has on public opinion, and is a firm believer in the power of storytelling.  He proudly owns his second copy of Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda… his first copy having been worn out though intense re-reading.

Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory.  He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI’s essay contests.  He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand’s work.  Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.

Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com.  He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of “Avengers of America” for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio.  In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.


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