Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is my favourite Quentin Tarantino film. Anybody who's listened to me yammer on about it would be aware, and it ranks alongside Death Proof as the most rewatched of Tarantino's films by me. I consider it a staggering achievement in the way that many look at Pulp Fiction or the recent Django Unchained. Whilst those two are indeed varying degrees of quality (Pulp Fiction >> Django Unchained, however, obviously), neither can surpass the pop connoisseur's third film in my eyes. From a visual stand point - the entire purpose of Nathaniel Rogers' "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" feature - it certainly lacks the vivid cinematic brush strokes of Tarantino's collaborations with Robert Richardson (Inglourious Basterds and the aforementioned Django Unchained), and yet there's probably quite a lot going on that, upon initial inspection, may be missed.

Jackie Brown, more so than any other of Tarantino's films, has a certain workmanlike quality to its visuals and yet also feels imbued with a stylish swagger. Thanks to cinematographer Guillermo Navarro, this obviously reflects the character at the heart of Jackie Brown - regular, but projecting an everyday class. The film is full of bold uses of colour amongst drab surroundings right from the very get go as Pam Grier's title character emerges on an airport conveyerbelt against a wall of various hues of blues, greens, and browns as the bright electric blue uniform pops. Blue and brown, it would seem, are recurring colours in the film. From the Ordell Robbie's blue flat cap and pants ensemble, the blue hum of a Los Angeles apartment complex, to the drab beige and brown walls of Max Cherry's bail bonds office, and the coffee-coloured textures of Grier and Jackson themselves. Jackie's blue stewardess uniform is surely as vivid a costume as The Bride's yellow motorcycle suit and that fabulous opening tracking shot is a beautiful inroads into this previously unknown character as she weaves her way through an airport lounge. At first calm and a picture of royal beauty, she becomes flushed and frenzied as the serene colours of her backdrop begin to blur into one another and give way to the hustle and bustle of the world around her/us.

This evolution is repeated once more in the film's standout set piece. A rivetting twist on a traditional heist sequence, the drop off department store scene is a deliciously handled moment that tells the same incident from multiple points of view. A stunning example of editing and music that merge to craft a tense, funny, almost cathartic moment for an audience. From Jackie's initial POV - wherein the "boo yah!" moment occurs, forever destined to be awesome - there lies a long take that follows Grier as Brown as she makes her way out of the department store she was to make the money drop and tries to find the FBI agents trailing her. As the camera watches Grier's every facial tick and flinch, it's hard to tell whether Brown is pretending to be worried and scared so as to make the FBI believe her story, or if she's genuinely worried about what's about to go down. A little from column a and a little from column b, perhaps.

This particular long take is my favourite "shot" of the movie, but the one spot I chose to screencap is, I think, so representative of the film as a whole. Pam Grier's face, etched in desperate verve, front and centre and the world whizzing by around her. She's just trying to make her way through the world "doing whatever [she] has to do to survive" (to quote the Bobby Womack song from the opening credits). The end of Jackie Brown is ambiguous if you choose to think of it that way. She sails off into the sunset and is happily ever after, or Jackie just continues to struggle as she attempts to be as classy as she can be even if the world around her is in chaos.

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