American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I like the moment when the veins pop out on Ordell's forehead. It's a quiet moment in the front seat of a van, he's sitting there next to Louis, he's just heard that he's lost his retirement fund of $500,000, and he's thinking hard. Quentin Tarantino lets him think. Just holds the shot, nothing happening. Then Ordell looks up and says, "It's Jackie Brown.'' He's absolutely right. She's stolen his money. In the movies people like him hardly ever need to think. The director has done all their thinking for them. One of the pleasures of "Jackie Brown,'' Tarantino's new film, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, is that everybody in the movie is smart. Whoever is smartest will live.
Jackie (Pam Grier) knows she needs to pull off a flawless scam, or she'll be dead. Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) will pop her, just like that guy they found in the trunk of a car. So she thinks hard, and so do a bail bondsman (Robert Forster) and an ATF agent (Michael Keaton). Everyone has a pretty good idea of exactly what's happening: They just can't figure it out fast enough to stay ahead of Jackie. The final scenes unfold in a cloud of delight, as the audience watches all of the threads come together.
This is the movie that proves Tarantino is the real thing, and not just a two-film wonder boy. It's not a retread of "Reservoir Dogs" or "Pulp Fiction," but a new film in a new style, and it evokes the particular magic of Elmore Leonard--who elevates the crime novel to a form of sociological comedy. There is a scene here that involves the ex-con Louis (Robert De Niro) and Ordell's druggie mistress (Bridget Fonda) discussing a photograph pinned to the wall, and it's so perfectly written, timed and played that I applauded it.
Tarantino has a lot of good scenes in this movie. The scene where one character lures another to his death by tempting him with chicken and waffles. The scene where a nagging woman makes one suggestion too many. The scene where a man comes around in the morning to get back the gun a woman borrowed the night before. The moment when Jackie Brown uses one line of dialogue, perfectly timed, to solve all of her problems.