Jackie Brown 4

Seven Million Miles

At its core, Jackie Brown isn’t about heists, or criminals, or getting stoned. Those elements are all just window dressing for what Tarantino is truly interested in: how Jackie and Max Cherry (Robert Forster, in a role that’d rightfully earn him a Best Supporting Actor nod at the Oscars) approach getting old. For Max, there isn’t much to stress about. Sure, he’d worried about losing his hair at one point, but once it began to fall out, he “did something about it”, and now feels good about himself again. When Cherry looks in the mirror, it’s still the same guy who’s written fifteen thousand bail bonds (and that’s plenty).

But Jackie’s had a bit of a rougher road than Max. A former offender who was put on probation after getting caught carrying drugs for her ex-husband, she’s started over more times than she can count. Now, she’s forty-four, flying the shittiest little airline who will still hire her, and if she loses this job, Jackie has no idea what the hell she’d do with herself. She can’t start over again. It’s too late for anything like that. The cash she’s going to swipe from Ordell seems like the easiest answer to her problems; a score that’d finally allow her to take a load off and retire in the sun she’s slaved so hard over the years to comfortably deliver other folks to.

There’s a tenderness to the way Tarantino approaches Jackie and Max’s relationship that’s certainly reared its head in his other work – the final conversations between Bill (David Carradine) and Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) during the ultimate chapter of Kill Bill (’03) come to mind – but never in such a crystalized fashion. His camera loves both characters, and when they share the frame together, we’re merely a fly on the wall, quietly observing a growing tension that’s obviously been absent for several years in both of their lives. As Jackie first emerges from the darkness when Max comes to bail her out of jail on Ordell’s bond, she’s like an angel he didn’t know could still exist, approaching like a Jacques Tourneur femme fatale. Ditto his acts of absolute kindness and concern for Jackie, who doesn’t seem like she’s had a man genuinely listen to her gripes about aging with such compassion in a long, long time.

When the two collaborate on the heist, there’s a shorthand that develops between them that the actors convey with brief glimpses and slight body language (which are emphasized by Tarantino’s fractured, omni-perspective narrative approach). They’re intimate partners without ever touching one another’s bodies; sharing a wavelength only they’re operating on together. Maybe this is because, like starting over, at their age there aren’t many chances for true love like there were in their 20s and 30s – when Grier sported that afro in Coffy (’73) and Forster that tight black tee in Medium Cool (’69). It’s the heartbreaking truth of having more sunsets behind you than there are in front of you: the opportunities to love, be loved, and share love lessen by the day, and you must grab ahold of them when they present themselves, because you never know if that spark you feel will be the last of your life once it fades away.

jackie brown 2

Across 110th Street

In the end, Jackie Brown is a nothing less than a love letter to Grier, who delivers the turn of her life – going from harried working girl, to purring sex kitten, to gun-toting badass, sometimes all in the same scene. Nevertheless, we never lose sight of the fact that Jackie feels over the hill, and the bags under her eyes can’t be rubbed away with a little bit of lotion. Grier’s a woman of experience, packaging an entire filmography’s worth of tough, weathered gorgeousness into that gaudy blue flight attendant’s uniform, and we’re all the better for it.

During the last reel of Jackie Brown, the greatest – or, at the very least, this writer’s personal favorite – shot of Tarantino’s career occurs. After everything’s said and done – the money (not to mention a now dead Ordell’s car) is hers, the cops are shook, and only the horizon remains – Jackie arrives at Max’s office, and the two share a kiss hot enough to scorch the celluloid as it runs through the projector. Max interrupts their final moment by answering his business’ phone, and Jackie flashes him one last perfect smile before walking through that front door and out of his life forever. Cherry asks the caller to dial back in a minute, and walks to the back of the room, raising his hands over his head in agony as Navarro slowly lets the frame go out of focus. Suddenly, we’re inside Max’s headspace, feeling the pain as he does – he just let possibly the last love of his life vanish, mouthing the lyrics to “Across 110th Street”, a beautiful, hard-nosed legend in both his and our minds.

There are no sequels to your twilight years, and Max Cherry’s wise enough to realize that.

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