Pam Grier in Jackie Brown (1997)

Whether you are a fan of Quentin Tarantino or not, there are two things you cannot deny about him: He is an extraordinary writer, whose focus on dialogue is truly one-of-a-kind, and he has the incredible talent to not only revive the careers from actors who have been long forgotten, but also manages to get the best performance of their career through his directing and writing. Tarantino may the very definition of obnoxious and seethes arrogance, but quite frankly, we let him get away with it because he’s a filmmaking genius. Tarantino the person versus Tarantino the filmmaker are two different aspects and for the sake of this entry, we are focusing on the artist. In that regard, it should be acknowledged that he revived the careers of John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Robert Forster, David Carradine, and more recently, Jennifer Jason Leigh. However, out of the vast majority of career revivals Tarantino achieved, none were to the same caliber than Pam Grier in Jackie Brown. Having been grossly ignored since her 1970s jailhouse rebel films, such as Foxy Brown (1974), Grier wowed everyone with a performance that she truly gave it her all.

Unfairly regarded as Tarantino’s “weakest movie,” Jackie Brown is about a middle-aged stewardess named Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) who is busted by two agents for possessing cocaine and ten thousand dollars in unclaimed money in her baggage. She soon realizes her arrest was no mistake when they begin asking her about Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and his illegal enterprise that she discreetly transports money for. The agents give Jackie a deal: Aid them in apprehending Robbie or go to jail. In the meantime, Robbie has bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) bail Jackie out of jail and he immediately falls in love with the dejected and bitter Jackie. Unbeknownst to him, Jackie realizes Robbie has bailed her out with the intention of killing her. After narrowly avoiding death, Jackie devises a scheme: Make it look like she is helping the agents, so she can procure her freedom, while also supposedly aiding Robbie to transport the remainder of his money, half a million dollars, out of Mexico and into the country. Yet what is the genuine plan: To trick everyone and walk away with the half a million dollars in her own pockets. With the help of Max Cherry, who she enlists, she stands at the precipice of success or failure.

As evidenced by the film’s plot, the film was entirely dependent upon Pam Grier. Without her, there was no film. Furthermore, the film required perhaps the most from Grier out of any other actor Tarantino has ever hired. She had to be convincing in all aspects of the character, especially in her deception towards the vast majority of the characters she interacts with. For Grier, she gave the performance her all and completely transformed herself from being the washed-up actress she formerly was to being a force to be reckoned with. In every scene she not only stood her ground, but also overshadowed all other actors who directly interacted with her. Yet Pam Grier was sure to not have her performance be one-note, which could have been devastating if she had. By interjecting some humanity and sentimentality into her performance, she avoided the possibility of Jackie Brown coming off as vile or being seen as a repugnant person. It is her scenes with Robert Forster where she truly shines because Grier gives the audience a genuine glimpse of who Jackie Brown is: an exhausted woman who has been used her entire life by all surrounding her, and she finally wants to make a break from it all and be truly independent.

Pam Grier showed audiences that she was still a relevant actress with her performance in Jackie Brown and it wasn’t ignored initially by the precursor awards. She got herself both a Golden Globe and SAG nomination, which put her on a good track of being nominated for the Oscar. However, when the nominations were announced, something ironic happened. Julie Cristie, who also had a career comeback that year for Afterglow (it was her first leading performance in ten years), essentially “stole” Grier’s nomination from her. Even more ironic was that the Oscars chose to nominate her co-star Robert Forster (who had zero Oscar traction beforehand) within the supporting actor category. To this day, Pam Grier’s Oscar snub still makes no sense.


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