Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Dissecting A Scene From Jackie Brown: The "Twist"


The screen is black. A rapping on a door. Fade in. Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) opens her door. We don't see who is AT the door because the camera consciously remains in the house. Jackie says: "Want your gun back? Come on in. I'll get it for you." She turns and exits stage right. Now Max Cherry (Robert Forster), bail bondsman, steps through the door and, thus, into the frame. He closes the door behind him.

Background: the previous night Max picked up Jackie at jail after Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) bailed her out. Fearing for her life, Jackie stealthily thieved Max's handgun from his glove apartment to fend off Ordell's murderous advances.

The camera angle switches and we see Max straight on. He examines the house. He crosses his arms. He looks no-nonsense. We've seen this scene, right? We've seen it a thousand times. He's a gruff guy just doing his job who just wants his gun back who doesn't have time for this B.S. That's the expectation.


Jackie enters with the gun. "Max, I am so sorry about this," she starts. "I was afraid to ask to borrow it. I was afraid you'd say no. I mean, you'd have to." She hands him the gun. He takes it. He holsters it. Jackie says everything she says in a lightly flirtatious manner, trying to slither her way off the hook. Max STILL looks no-nonsense, like he's not going to let her slither her way off the hook. So Jackie tries another approach: "Want some coffee?"

Max says: "If you're having some." Wait, wait, wait. The way he says it is so cordial. Is this, like, a brunch date or something? What's going on?

She invites him in and offers him a seat as she goes to make the coffee in her kitchen. Max wonders "Did you get a chance to use it?" But he doesn't say it suspiciously or angrily. He really wonders. "I felt a lot safer having it," she replies.

Max: "Would you care to hang on to it for awhile? It wouldn't be legal but if it makes you feel better, I guess."
Jackie: "Thanks. But I got one now."
Max: "You went out this morning and bought a gun?"
Jackie: "Well, let's say I got one now, okay?"

Jackie goes to her record player and her thick collection of LPs. She puts on The Delfonics (remember, this is a Q.T. film). She and he banter a bit about the CD revolution (remember, this is 1997) and how Jackie has resisted it. The music momentarily transports Jackie away from her problems......but only momentarily.

The first half of the discussion that follows is standard fare for a heist picture. You know, how Jackie can scam both Ordell and the A.T.F. into getting Ordell's half a million bucks up from Cabo San Lucas - which is where Jackie flies for her job as an airline attendant - and into the country and manage to keep all for herself without landing herself back in jail or winding up dead by Ordell's hand. This, however, is just verbal foreplay, building up to the real intent of the sequence.


Jackie: "Well, I ain’t going back to jail, and I ain’t doing that probation thing again." (Pause.) "Max, how do you feel about getting old?"
Max: "You’re not old. You look great."
Jackie: "No, I’m asking you how do you feel about getting old. Doesn’t it bother you?"
Max: "It's not really something I think about. I guess I got sensitive about my hair a few years ago. It started falling out, so I did something about it."
Jackie: "How’d you feel about that?" 
Max: "I feel fine with it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have done it. I did it to feel better about myself, and, you know, I do. I look in the mirror. Looks like me."               
Jackie: "Yeah, but its different for men."
Max: "You know, I can’t really feel too sorry for you in this department. I bet that, except for possibly an afro, you look exactly the way you did at twenty-nine."
Jackie: "Well, my ass ain’t the same."
Max: "Bigger?"
Max: "Yeah."
Max: "Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Something else worry you?"
Jackie: "I always feel like I’m starting over. How many bonds you said you wrote?"
Max: "Fifteen-thousand."
Jackie: "Is that a lot?"
Max: "That's plenty."
Jackie: "Well, I’ve flown over seven million miles and I’ve been waiting on people for twenty years. Then after my bust, the best job I could get was with Cabo Air. Which is the worst job you can get in this industry. You know I make sixteen-thousand a year, plus retirement benefits that ain’t worth a damn. And with this arrest hanging over my head, Max, I’m scared. And if I lose this job, I gotta start all over again. And I ain’t got nothing to start over with. I’ll be stuck with whatever I can get. And that shit is more scary than Ordell."

The first time I saw this film I was barely twenty. I saw it, plainly, as a heist picture as made by the guy fresh off "Pulp Fiction." That's how everyone saw it - strike that! That's how everyone my age, or around my age, saw it. At the time of its release I was working as a lowly movie theater grunt and I picked up an extra shift at the Westwood 6 (may she rest in peace) which was showing "Jackie Brown" and I remember another grunt around my age saying to me that he did not like the film. And he did not like it because he kept expecting "some big twist" that never arrived.

Except it did arrive. The twist is this scene. "Jackie Brown" is not a heist film. "Jackie Brown" is a film about aging that uses the heist for cover. I didn't understand then.

I do now.

5 comments:

Dan said...

Very good points about Jackie Brown. I've seen it a bunch of times, and what keeps me coming back are the main characters. Forster and Greer are so good and make us care about them like few of Tarantino's characters.

Le Jours Tristes said...

never saw this movie but it sounds interesting plus Pam Grier is on the cast.

Nick Prigge said...

Dan: It really is Tarantino's most intimate film. By a long shot. I'd love to see him try his hand at this sort of realism again.

Le Jours: If you like Pam Grier, then this is a must see.

Alex Withrow said...

Remarkable analysis. Definitely one of my favorite scenes in the film.

The way Forster says "Ain't nothin' wrong with that," is just perfect.

Really solid post here.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks, man. When I re-watched this scene to write this that whole exchange about her derriere made me laugh so hard. I'd forgotten all about it. It's just nice to see a movie about two older people flirting in a very real way.