So, having been thoroughly disappointed by Django Unchained, despite it having some terrific scenes and several excellent performances, I didn’t have much intention of watching any more Tarantino for a while, this film being the only one I had any interest at all in, since it has the reputation of being among Tarantino’s and, for some the very, best. When the DVD turned up on my desk one morning, kindly lent me by a colleague, I had mixed feelings. I mean, I wanted to watch the film but this soon would I be able to give it a fair viewing or would my disillusionment with Tarantino spill over into this film? As it turned out, I thoroughly enjoyed this, even more than Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction but it doesn’t make me any more inclined to go and see new Tarantino – I still feel that he needs someone to reign in his more infantile tendencies.
Ok, to the plot. Pam Grier plays the eponymous heroine, an air stewardess on a no-mark Mexican airline, having lost any chance of working on reputable US airlines due to being implicated in her ex-husband’s drug running operation. She is still smuggling, now bringing in cash for arms-smuggler Ordell (Samuel L Jackson) from Mexico. The action starts when Jackie is arrested by cop Mark Dargus (Michael Bowen) and FBI agent Ray Nicolette (Michael Keaton). Unfortunately for Jackie, among the cash she’s carrying, there is also a small package of drugs. Dargus and Nicolette offer Jackie a deal – give them enough evidence to catch Ordell and she can go free.
Ordell, by this time, has already demonstrated his ruthlessness, in arranging bail, through bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) for one of his other accomplices simply to get him away from the authorities and kill him before he can talk; when he bails Jackie, again through Max, it is clear that Ordell intends to make sure Jackie can’t talk either. But Jackie is clever, striking up a friendship with Max, and plans to play off Ordell and the cops to ensure she stays both free and alive – and with enough money to set up a new life.
This movie is full of great performances – with people like Robert De Niro and Bridget Fonda in supporting roles, you can expect strength in depth – and the dialogue is snappy and fun. But where this film really delivers (unlike Django) is the plot, which is taut and lean; taken from an Elmore Leonard book, there is no flabby self-indulgance here and the violence, doled out carefully in short, sharp scenes, has much more impact when it does arrive than the fake-blood-soaked silliness of later films.
If I wanted to pick fault, I could; we are asked to take the side of a drug and gun smuggler (and is she a simple victim or a clever operator? – the film wants to have it both ways) against the police who are trying to catch a worse smuggler – the ethics are pretty dodgy here – but there is enough style that he pretty much gets away with this.