Jackie Brown (1997), the third film from director Quentin Tarantino, serves as his subtle homage to Blaxploitation. The eponymous Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), a burnt-out middle-aged flight attendant, routinely smuggles money across the border from Mexico for an American gun runner; during the course of the film, Jackie becomes entangled in the lives of said gun runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson), his ex-convict friend Louis (Robert De Niro), Louis' piece of hot tail Melanie (Bridget Fonda), bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster), an ATF officer (Michael Keaton), and an LAPD officer (Michael Bowen).
When the authorities discover Jackie's smuggling, they put together a sting operation where Jackie will implicate Ordell in the money smuggling so the ATF can take him down. The ATF promises to clear Jackie of the outstanding charges against her, but she only goes free if the plan goes off without a hitch. When Jackie finds out Ordell plans on smuggling in more money than normal, she keeps the information from the ATF and works out a plan of her own to keep all the money for herself while gaining her freedom. With Max's help, Jackie can pull it off, but she must outsmart the cops, Louis, and Ordell…
As a film, it is somewhat different to the usual Tarantino fare, being probably the closest he will ever get to "real life". Ordell is much closer to life (relatively) in his portrayal of a charismatic yet paranoid thug, and Jackie's plan and romance with Max Cherry are full of subtleties and meaningful conversations about getting old and beginning again after a harsh life. Its climax is also much less bombastic than most, but don't take that as meaning it is any less bloody. The novel Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard served as the basis for this film's story, which probably explains why it is the least Tarantino-esque of Tarantino's films.
Oh, and Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (also based on an Elmore Leonard novel) seems to share a universe with this film — as Soderbergh brought in Michael Keaton to reprise his role as Ray Nicolette.
Jackie Brown includes examples of the following tropes:
- Actor Allusion:
- Jackie and Max have a conversation about getting old and growing tired. Their actors, Pam Grier and Robert Forster, had been big stars in the seventies, but their stars had waned by the time they took this movie. Ironically, this movie revitalized both of their careers.
- During the sequence where Ordell is watching TV with Louis, the phone rings and he goes to the kitchen. In the fridge, there's a picture of Samuel L. Jackson naked inside a bath tub. This picture is from his role in Goodfellas.
- Adaptation Title Change: Jackie Brown was based on the novel Rum Punch.
- Adaptational Curves: Inverted with Melanie. In Rum Punch, she is constantly referred to by Ordell as "my fine big girl," and is described as, if not actually fat, having very large breasts and backside. Here, she's a super-skinny supermodel.
- Affably Evil: Ordell. He becomes significantly less affable once he realizes Jackie has ripped him off.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Melanie is Ordell's kept woman, and gets eyes for Louis when she learns he's done four years for bank robbery, though she'll apparently hit Anything That Moves.
- AM/FM Characterization: When Ordell Robbie gets into Max Cherry's car, he's greeted by the sound of the Delfonics on the stereo — Jackie's favorite band. Fortunately for Max, he doesn't put two and two together.
- And Starring: Chris Tucker as Beaumont.
- Anti-Climax: At Cherry's office, rather than engaging in an extended and badass gunfight, Ordell is killed off within just a few moments by the cops.
- Anything That Moves: Ordell is unsurprised that Louis had sex with his girl while he was away, commenting that he knew she would do so if he left them alone for just two minutes.
- Arms Dealer: Ordell, describing an AK-47:"When you want to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes!"
- Asshole Victim: Before the plot of the movie kicks off, Beaumont Livingston getting killed by his boss, Ordell Robbie.
- Big Bad: Ordell.
- Bittersweet Ending: Jackie and Max pull off their scheme without a hitch, but Max decides he's too old for romance, and Jackie leaves him behind, though the film indicates that at best, they will remain in correspondence.
- Blaxploitation: This is Tarantino's tribute to the genre. The way the soundtrack, lighting, and casting (particularly of Pam "Foxy Brown" Grier) are done is quite similar to the style of such films.
- Brand X: A substantial amount of screen time is given to the Billingsley department store, which is really the Del Amo Fashion Center's Macy's.
- Bullying a Dragon: Melanie mocks Louis mercilessly for being an inept crook, which turns out to be a bad idea.
- Casting Gag: Sid Haig played villainous characters in a lot of blaxploitation films opposite Pam Grier; in this film, he has a cameo as a judge. He refuses the prosecution's request for an increased bail amount and gives Jackie a quick smile before departing. When filming the scene, Grier (who didn't know he had been cast) was so shocked to see him in a lawful role that she burst out laughing.
- The Chessmaster: Jackie. She escapes the wrath of an angry Samuel L. Jackson with four words: "He's got a gun!"
- Cluster F-Bomb: Well, duh. They're mostly courtesy of Ordell.
- Colorblind Casting: In the novel, the protagonist was a white woman named Jackie Burke, but Quentin Tarantino made changes to get Pam Grier in the role.
- Creator Cameo: Quentin Tarantino is the electronic voice on Jackie's answering machine.
- Death by Mocking: Melanie gets shot by Louis over her constant trolling of him and refusal to go along with anything he asks of her.
- Delayed Reaction: Ordell's reaction when Louis informs him that he shot Melanie is hilarious.
- Did Not Get the Girl: Max chooses to let Jackie go by herself in the end.
- Dies Wide Open: Ordell Robbie.
- Do You Want to Copulate?: Melanie and Louis are having a conversation when she asks out of the blue: "Wanna fuck?" Louis responds "Yeah", and the scene then cuts to them having sex.
- Dramatic Gun Cock: Jackie reveals herself to have a hidden gun by cocking it, just as Max realizes on the other side of the split-screen that his gun is gone.
- Enraged by Idiocy: Ordell yells at Louis for not only needlessly murdering Melanie over her mockery, but failing to notice Max during the scam. This, combined with him being scammed, drives Ordell to kill Louis.
- Establishing Character Music: Jackie is introduced to "Across 110th Street" by Bobby Womack. The song also plays the film out.
- Exact Words: Louis warns Melanie, "Not another fuckin' word!" She responds with a defeated, "Okay, Louis." He shoots her. He really did mean not a single word.
- The Film of the Book: Of Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard. Notably, this is the only Tarantino film to have been directly adapted from something else.
- Food as Bribe: Ordell entices Beaumont into accompanying him on an arms deal by promising they'll get chicken and waffles later. Unfortunately for Beaumont, it was a trap to get him in a vulnerable position to be killed.
- Foot Focus: A Tarantino special. Melanie spends most of her screen-time barefooted. There are two long close-ups of her bare feet bedecked with toe rings. Louis notices her feet, but he snags his drink away from them. Later, she tries to run her bare feet up his thigh, but he rebuffs her, having grown to dislike her for trying to play him against Ordell.
- Gambit Pileup: The tagline says it all. Jackie plans to keep all the money for herself, and in order to do so she has to play roles in the simultaneous plans of the ATF to get at Ordell and of Ordell to get at his money.
- Groin Attack: Jackie points her stolen revolver at Ordell's crotch to get him to back off.
- Jerkass: Jackie and Max ain't no complete saints, but Beaumont, Ordell, Melanie, and Louis are worse.
- Leg Focus: There are a lot of lingering shots of Melanie long, sun-kissed legs.
- Leitmotif: Each character has their own '70s pop song. Max's is even in-universe.
- Minion with an F in Evil: Melanie is deeply involved in Ordell's operations, but doesn't seem that useful towards them, or particularly malicious.
- Mood Whiplash: From Louis and Melanie's hilarious attempts to find their car straight into Louis killing Melanie, who's even offscreen to make it all the more shocking.
- Ms. Fanservice: Melanie, in every single frame she's in.
- Nerves of Steel: Jackie, like you wouldn't believe. Ordell even notes that she's always "too cool for school". Feds, gun runners, whoever comes after her, she won't bat an eye.
- N-Word Privileges: Subverted; Ordell seems physically incapable of going two sentences without saying it, but this is intended to make him seem even more obnoxious than he already is.
- Not Used to Freedom: According to Tarantino's screenplay, Louis, now in his mid-40s, has cumulatively spent more than half his life in prison, and, "[w]hile acutely aware of the rhythm of life inside a correction facility, in the real world his timing is thrown. It's like a song he doesn't know the lyrics to but attempts to sing anyway."
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Ordell is loud and gregarious. Even when he's mad, he's more cantankerous. In the end, when threatening Max, however, he speaks barely above a whisper.
- Offing the Annoyance: Louis kills Melanie because she was constantly heckling him for forgetting where he parked their van.
- The Oner:
- The film's opening scene with Jackie on the moving sidewalk (which doubles as a Shout-Out to the opening scene of The Graduate).
- Jackie walking through the mall working herself up to look extremely upset as part of her plan, before she calls for Ray.
- There's the scene that focuses on Louis continuously walking through the parking lot to the van right after shooting Melanie.
- Pet the Dog: Jackie giving Melanie a wad of money (although that may have just been to frame her for stealing the rest of it) and Melanie thanking her during the exchange.
- Properly Paranoid: Ordell kills Beaumont, as he fears that he'll cooperate with the police and give him up in order to avoid a jail sentence. Ordell later discovers that he was cooperating with the police.
- Protagonist Title: Jackie Brown is our protagonist.
- Race Lift:
- Jackie is white in the novel, but her race was changed for the film just because Tarantino wanted to work with Pam Grier. Her last name was even changed to emphasize this (it's Burke in the book).
- Ordell was explicitly stated to be a light-skinned black man (i.e. mixed-race) in the book, so much so that he could walk through a neo-Nazi parade unharmed. In the film, he's played by the unambiguously black Samuel L Jackson.
- Really Gets Around: Ordell has at least three women he regularly sleeps with: surfer girl Melanie, soul singer Simone, and country bumpkin Sharonda. Melanie also sleeps around and has sex with Louis as soon as she’s alone with him. To his credit, Ordell more or less expected it would happen and isn’t bothered in the slightest about it.
- The Red Stapler: Invoked early on when Ordell talks about how everyone wants to buy a pair of .45 caliber handguns because they saw them in a movie, except the version they want has serious jamming issues, and the much more reliable model is virtually unknown.
- Scary Black Man: Ordell and Winston.
- Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: With Pam Grier, of course. See the poster for the film above.
- Seen It All: Max's attitude has shades of this. Being a longtime bail bondsman, he's naturally been exposed to vast numbers of criminals of every variety imaginable.
- Simultaneous Arcs: The money exchange at the mall is shown several times from different characters' viewpoints to show off exactly how Jackie's scheme played out.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Every character gets their fair share, but Ordell stands out, especially as tension mounts near the end.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Winston is barely in the movie, but he helps Jackie, Max, and the ATF find Ordell, which directly leads them to the confrontation Ordell in the end.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: Johnny Cash in a Blaxploitation film? Only from Tarantino.
- Stupid Crooks: Louis turns out to be a monumentally inept crook. He's so nervous at the mall that he's sweating, gets lost in the store, and can't find his car in the parking lot. Melanie mocks him for it the whole time, which makes things worse.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The page-topping quote is a good example.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Chris Tucker's character, Beaumont, who starts the whole chain of events by getting arrested for driving drunk with an illegal firearm while on parole.
- Louis has headed down this road by the end of the movie as well.
- Melanie. her refusal to just shut up and stop taunting an armed ex-convict gets her fatally shot.
- Trespassing to Talk: Ordell lurks in Jackie's apartment for one of these conversations.
- Trunk Shot: A Tarantino special. This one has Ordell and Beaumont arguing over whether Beaumont will climb into the trunk.
- Uncle Tomfoolery: Beaumont's behavior evokes some of this.
- Weapon for Intimidation: Invoked. Ordell convinces Beaumont Livingston to hide in the trunk of his car with an unloaded shotgun for the stated purpose of surprising the buying party at one of Ordell's arms deals. However, Ordell's true intentions are to drive over to a nearby vacant lot and shoot the defenseless Beaumont dead himself.
- Where da White Women At?: Ordell and Melanie. Although Ordell boasts about only keeping Melanie around because she's white, his reaction to her death implies that it was just part of his image and he did actually love her.
- You Have Failed Me: Ordell shoots Louis Gara for both failing to be appropriately suspicious of Max's presence in a women's clothing store in the mall and killing Melanie and leaving her body in the parking lot. The scene is made much more effective by his actually looking sad about it.
Louis: Who's that?
- Also chillingly illustrated in Ordell's line:"What the fuck happened to you, man? Your ass used to be beautiful!"
- He also kills Beaumont because he thinks he might fail him.
Ordell: That's Beaumont.
Louis: Who's Beaumont?
Ordell: A employee I had to let go.
- And he also plots to kill Jackie for exactly the same reasons. Really, Ordell seems to live by this trope.
- Also chillingly illustrated in Ordell's line:
- "You Used to Be Better" Speech: Ordell gives a quick one to Louis before he kills him.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Ordell comes across as a pretty nasty piece of work, but he is still likable, and his death is quite a sad moment, as is the buildup to it. He shows a poetic, almost philosophical side, and even demonstrates that he has some morals in the previous book. He is also visibly shaken by having to kill Louis, and his ego has been shattered by the failure of his plans.
- Character Development: Between the two books, the second of which is the basis for the film. In the first, Ordell and Louis are much younger and full of enthusiasm and fun, and somewhat more principled. In the second, Ordell is greedier and nastier than ever, and Louis has become extremely lethargic and seems to be falling apart.
- Took a Level in Badass: An example in the book. In the previous book, The Switch, Ordell seems to be kind of squeamish about killing people. Here, he seems to be more ruthless and probably tougher.