ON THE Q.T., CHAPTER 3: JACKIE BROWN: Quentin and Pam's Big Score

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by Odie Henderson and Jason Bellamy
December 17, 2012 8:30 AM
4 Comments
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Quentin and Pam’s Big Score, Part 2

Welcome to the seduction of Max Cherry, writer of 15,000 bonds, survivor of 57 years on the Earth, newcomer to 70’s soul music. Male. Obviously not blind. Bearing witness to Jackie Brown, looking refreshingly like a normal human being and pressing a different kind of gun to his bone. She renders him helpless with the clarion call of her partners in crime,

“The Delfonics.”

Quentin Tarantino relishes putting a gun in Pam Grier’s hands, throwing us back to the good old days of Nurse Coffy, Sheba Shayne and Friday Foster. Her genre reputation precedes her, and one can almost hear QT cackle as he merges Brian DePalma’s split-screen, Jack Hill’s dialogue and an overzealous sound man’s rendition of that “CLICK” that accompanies that gun aimed at Ordell Robbie’s favorite toy. But this commandeering of DePalma and Hill serves the drama—Elmore Leonard crafted the Ordell-Jackie pas de deux in his novel, Rum Punch, to get us here. It’s Max’s gun Jackie’s stolen, and its retrieval leads not only to Max’s seduction but also to some of the most poignant dialogue Tarantino has scripted. Notice how delicately the camera moves in on Grier’s profile. It’s almost as if we’re eavesdropping on Pam and Robert, not Jackie and Max.

Jackie needs an ally like Max because The Big Score, that Blaxploitation staple designed to get one out of the hustle, involves Jackie smuggling half a million dollars of Ordell’s money from Cabo San Lucas.  She’ll do it under the nose of ATF agent Ray Nicolet, tricking him with a visible $50,000 that distracts Ray from a hidden $500,000. Max decides to help because he too wants to get out of his hustle. That, and because the Delfonics--pretty fucking persuasive.

Whom you trust is essential in any heist, and Ordell trusts his right hand man Louis. He and Louis were in the hoosegow together, and Ordell believes in honor amongst thieves, a common mistake amongst thieves. Additionally, Ordell has his bevy of women primed to do his bidding and, true to Blaxploitation form, ready to assist on The Big Score.

There’s aging Motown wannabe Simone, whose impressions of Diana Ross and Mary Wells hint that, though this pussy may be old, it’s real and it’s spectacular.

There’s Sheronda, country as a chicken coop, naïve as hell, and recipient of Ordell’s most hilarious putdown.

Then there’s Melanie, his “little Surfer Girl” whose excessive drug use disguises a truly cunning and vindictive mind. Of the dope use, Ordell tells her “that shit will rob you of your ambitions.” Melanie’s ambition is to rob Ordell of his money. So maybe the dope use is a good thing.

Ordell thinks this is his game, but “The Money Exchange,” the codename for The Big Score, is designed to favor Jackie Brown. He let her create it, he’s entrusting her to screw over the Feds, and he’s unaware of how deep her alliance with Max Cherry runs. It’s going to work, though, because Ordell thinks his scary disposition will keep his bitches in line and they will not—repeat will NOT—betray him.

The logistics of The Money Exchange are faithfully recreated from Dutch’s novel. But its execution is pure Tarantino. Cutting loose and succumbing to his love of time manipulation, QT presents the money swap from three characters’ perspectives: Jackie’s, Max’s, and the comic duo of DeNiro and Fonda’s Louis and Melanie. Each depiction focuses on its protagonist’s traits. Jackie is in control in hers, with a great little dialogue about an even greater little pantsuit. Louis and Melanie are antagonistic in theirs, culminating in a very violent Abbott and Costello routine involving a lost car. And Max’s version is cool, suspenseful and exciting, because he’s the one left holding the bag.  

When Ordell and Max drive to the final showdown with Jackie, the film uses The Delfonics’ 1971 classic, “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind,” as an almost subliminal reassurance that our heroes will succeed.  Jackson uses silence to great ominous effect here, a visual terror undercut by the lovely musical accompaniment from the car stereo. This is Jackie and Max’s song, and Jackie Brown is a romance, or as close to a romance as its director has ever been.

Rum Punch leaves its final scene ambiguous. Jackie Brown puts a bittersweet, old-fashioned finality to the proceedings, with the duo finally doing what we’ve been waiting all film for them to do.

As the final scene mirrors the first, we Blaxploitation fans revel in seeing our heroine once again prevail. We’ve been amused by Tarantino’s shorthand. And we’ve confirmed what we’ve known all along: A woman can only be tough 23 hours out of the day. That last hour, even the toughest chick needs to power down and meditate on her emotions.

Damn.

A globetrotting computer programmer by trade and movie lover by hobby, Odie Henderson has contributed to Slant Magazine's The House Next Door since 2006. Additionally, his work has appeared at Movies Without Pity (2008) and numerous other sites. He currently runs the blog Tales of Odienary Madness.

Jason Bellamy ruminates on cinema at The Cooler and is a regular contributor to Slant Magazine's The House Next Door, coauthoring The Conversations series with Ed Howard. Follow him on Twitter.

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4 Comments

  • Donella | December 29, 2012 5:36 PMReply

    Without Elmore Leonard, there would be no Jackie Brown. Very grateful to Leonard for constructing a complex, calculating, empowered female character.

  • rippke | December 22, 2012 3:37 PMReply

    Excellent! This is Tarantino's most underrated film.

  • Boone | December 17, 2012 3:14 PMReply

    Damn, indeed. Odie and Bellamy flow together like Elmore and QT.

  • jimg | December 17, 2012 10:34 AMReply

    enjoyed that, thanks!

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