In Quentin Tarantino’s third film, the legendary Pam Grier plays an air hostess who becomes embroiled in an elaborate set-up after she’s arrested by the FBI.
Based on a book, it’s by far Tarantino’s most plot-heavy film, with a lengthy set-up where we try and work out what Jackie’s up to. The film is built around the charismatic Greer and Tarantino’s worship of her, changing the name and ethnicity of the novel’s white Jackie Burke, presumably as a reference to Greer’s famous heroine Foxy Brown.
Jackie is a down-and-out middle aged air hostess who can’t get a job with a decent airline and is reduced to trafficking drugs and money. But by the sheer force of her personality, and possibly the fact she is underestimated, she is able to bend the men around her to her will.
This includes FBI officer Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton) who first busts Jackie smuggling cash and cocaine, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L Jackson) the gun dealer the feds are after, and Max Cherry (Robert Forster), a trustworthy bail-bondsman who ultimately helps Jackie plan an epic theft under the nose of both the FBI and Ordell.
In spite of the amount of time discussing details it’s never boring, peppered with Tarantino’s snappy pop-culture infused dialogue. The result is a lengthy affair, which is hard to follow in detail on the first (or second) viewing. But even without this it’s highly entertaining throughout thanks to its ensemble cast.
Jackson steals the show with his Jules Winnfield-on-steroids performance as the funny-but-ruthless Ordell, the screwdriver-drinking arms dealer who says ‘motherfucker’ more than any other Jackson character. Forster and Keaton are fantastic, as is Bridget Fonda as Melanie, a young woman who lives in one of Ordell’s houses. Robert de Niro is also excellent as a dimwitted, mumbling associate of Robbie who spends most of the film puffing on a bong. And of course Pam Grier takes the title role, managing to be every bit as smart, charismatic and appealing as she needs to be.
It’s masterfully directed by Tarantino who avoids his now-annoying chapter headings, while keeping the pop soundtrack of his previous two films, heavily featuring Across 110th Street from the film of the same name. The end result is a film that’s entertaining throughout and is more rewarding with every re-watch.