Jackie Brown is a flight attendant for a small Mexican airline. To make ends meet, she smuggles money from Mexico into the United States for Ordell Robbie, a black-market gun runner living in the Los Angeles metropolitan area under the ATF's close watch, forcing him to use couriers. Ordell learns that another of his couriers, Beaumont Livingston, has been arrested. Assuming that Livingston will become an informant in order to avoid jail time, Ordell arranges for bail with bondsman Max Cherry, then coaxes Livingston into a car trunk and murders him.
Acting on information Beaumont had already shared, ATF agent Ray Nicolette and LAPD detective Mark Dargus intercept Jackie as she returns to the United States with Ordell's cash and some cocaine that Brown was unaware was stashed in her bag. Initially refusing to cut a deal, she is sent to jail which alerts Ordell that she might also be a threat to inform. Having received payment from Ordell, Max picks up Jackie from the jail and begins to develop an attraction to her. Ordell arrives at Jackie's house intending to murder her but she surprises him by pulling a gun surreptitiously taken from the glove compartment of Max's car. Jackie negotiates a deal with Ordell to pretend to help the authorities while smuggling in $550,000 of Ordell's money, enough to allow him to retire.
To carry out this plan, Ordell is counting on Melanie Ralston, an unambitious, stoned surfer girl with whom he lives, and Louis Gara, a friend and former cellmate. Unaware of Jackie and Ordell's plan to smuggle in $550,000, Nicolette and Dargus devise a sting to catch Ordell during a transfer of $50,000. Unbeknownst to all, Jackie plans to double-cross everyone and keep $500,000 for herself. She recruits Max to assist with her plan and offers him a cut.
In the Del Amo Mall on the day of the transfer, Jackie enters a dressing room to try on a new suit. She has told Ordell that she will swap bags there with Melanie, supposedly passing off the $550,000 under the nose of Nicolette, who has been told that the exchange is to take place in the food court. Instead, the bag she gives Melanie contains only $50,000 and the rest is left behind in the dressing room for Max to pick up. Jackie then feigns despair as she calls Nicolette and Dargus out from hiding, claiming Melanie took all the money and ran.
In the parking lot, Melanie mocks Louis until he loses his temper and shoots her dead. Louis confesses this to Ordell. Ordell is livid when he discovers that most of the money is gone, and he realizes that Jackie is to blame. When Louis mentions that during the hand-off he saw Max Cherry in the store's dress department and thought nothing of it, Ordell kills Louis and leaves with the bag. Ordell turns his anger toward Max, who informs him that Jackie is frightened for her life and is waiting in Max's office to hand over the money. A menacing Ordell holds Max at gunpoint as they enter the darkened office. Jackie suddenly yells that Ordell has a gun, and Nicolette jumps from a hiding place and shoots him dead.
Having had her charges dropped for cooperating with the ATF, and now in possession of the money as well as Ordell's car, Jackie decides to leave the country and travel to Madrid, Spain. She invites Max to go along with her, but he declines. Jackie shares a meaningful moment with Max, kisses him goodbye, and leaves as Max takes a phone call. Moments later, Max cuts the call short and seems to contemplate his decision to stay behind as Jackie drives away.Pam Grier as Jackie Brown
Samuel L. Jackson as Ordell Robbie
Robert Forster as Max Cherry
Bridget Fonda as Melanie Ralston
Michael Keaton as Ray Nicolette
Robert De Niro as Louis Gara
Chris Tucker as Beaumont Livingston
Michael Bowen as Mark Dargus
Lisa Gay Hamilton as Sheronda
Tommy "Tiny" Lister Jr. as Winston
Hattie Winston as Simone
Sid Haig as Judge
Aimee Graham as Amy
Diana Uribe as Anita Lopez
T'Keyah Crystal Keymah as Raynelle
Denise Crosby (uncredited) as Public defender
Quentin Tarantino (uncredited) as Answering machine voice
After completing Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary acquired the film rights to Elmore Leonard's novels Rum Punch, Freaky Deaky, and Killshot. Tarantino initially planned to film either Freaky Deaky or Killshot and have another director make Rum Punch, but changed his mind after re-reading Rum Punch, stating that he "fell in love" with the novel all over again. While adapting Rum Punch into a screenplay, Tarantino changed the ethnicity of the main character from white to black, as well as renaming her from Burke to Brown, titling the screenplay Jackie Brown. Avary and Tarantino hesitated to discuss the changes with Leonard, finally speaking with Leonard as the film was about to start shooting. Leonard loved the screenplay, considering it not only the best of the twenty-six screen adaptations of his novels and short stories, but also stating that it was possibly the best screenplay he had ever read.
Tarantino's screenplay otherwise closely followed Leonard's novel, incorporating elements of Tarantino's trademark humor and pacing. The screenplay was also influenced by blaxploitation films, but Tarantino stated that Jackie Brown is not a blaxploitation film.
Jackie Brown alludes to Grier's career in many ways. The film's poster resembles those of Grier's films Coffy and Foxy Brown and includes quotes from both films. The typeface for the film's opening titles was also used for those of Foxy Brown; some of the background music is lifted from these films.
The film's opening sequence is similar to that of The Graduate, in which Dustin Hoffman passes wearily through Los Angeles International Airport past white tiles to a somber "The Sound of Silence" by Simon and Garfunkel. In Jackie Brown, Grier glides by blue tiles in the same spot on a moving sidewalk in the same direction to a soaring soul music song, "Across 110th Street" by Bobby Womack, which is from the film of the same name that was a part of the blaxploitation genre, just like Foxy Brown and Coffy.
Tarantino wanted Pam Grier to play the title character. She previously read for the Pulp Fiction character Jody, but Tarantino did not believe audiences would find it plausible for Eric Stoltz to yell at her. Grier did not expect Tarantino to contact her after the success of Pulp Fiction. When she showed up to read for Jackie Brown, Tarantino had posters of her films in his office. She asked if he had put them up because she was coming to read for his film, and he responded that he was actually planning to take them down before her audition, to avoid making it look like he wanted to impress her. Several years after the release of the movie, Sylvester Stallone claimed that he turned down the role of Louis Gara.
While Jackie Brown was in production, Universal Studios was preparing to begin production on Out of Sight, directed by Steven Soderbergh and eventually starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, an adaptation of a Leonard novel that also featured the character of Ray Nicolette, and waited to see who Tarantino would cast as Nicolette for Jackie Brown. Michael Keaton was hesitant to take the part of Ray Nicolette, even though Tarantino and Avary wanted him for it. Keaton subsequently agreed to play Nicolette again in Out of Sight, uncredited, appearing in one brief scene. Although the legal rights to the character were held by Miramax and Tarantino, as Jackie Brown had been produced first, Tarantino insisted that the studio not charge Universal for using the character in Out of Sight, allowing the character's appearance without Miramax receiving financial compensation.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives it an approval rating of 87% based on reviews from 75 critics and an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's consensus is: "Tarantino's third film, fashioned as a comeback vehicle for star Pam Grier, offers typical wit and charm—and is typically overstuffed."
Roger Ebert rated the film as one of his favorites of 1997. Movie critic Mark Kermode for BBC Radio Five Live lists Jackie Brown as his favorite film by Quentin Tarantino. Film co-star and frequent collaborator of Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson names the film his personal favorite of Tarantino's work.
The film grossed $39.7 million in the North American and $35.1 million in other territories for a total gross of $74.7 million, against a budget of $12 million.
The film grossed $9.2 million in its opening weekend, finishing 5th at the box office.
Grier and Jackson were nominated for Golden Globe Awards (Grier for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and Jackson for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy). Forster was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film was also nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, ranking in at #215.
At the 48th Berlin International Film Festival, Jackson won the Silver Bear for Best Actor award.
The soundtrack album for Jackie Brown, entitled Jackie Brown: Music from the Miramax Motion Picture, was released on December 9, 1997.
Songs by a variety of artists are heard throughout the film, including The Delfonics "La-La Means I Love You" and "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)", Bill Withers "Who Is He", The Grass Roots "Midnight Confessions", Johnny Cash "Tennessee Stud", Bloodstone "Natural High", and Foxy Brown "(Holy Matrimony) Married to the Firm". There are several songs included that were featured in Blaxploitation films as well, including Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street", from the film of the same name, and Pam Grier's "Long Time Woman", from her 1971 film The Big Doll House. The original soundtrack also features separate tracks with dialogue from the film. Instead of using a new film score, Tarantino incorporated Roy Ayers' funk score from the film Coffy.
A number of songs used in the film do not appear on the soundtrack, such as "Cissy Strut" (The Meters) and "Undun" (The Guess Who).
The Special Edition DVD, released by Buena Vista in 2002, includes an introduction from Tarantino, an hour-long retrospective interview, a subtitle trivia track and soundtrack chapter selection, a half-hour making-of documentary ("How It Went Down"), the entire "Chicks Who Love Guns" video as seen in the film, many deleted and alternate scenes, including an alternate opening title sequence, Siskel and Ebert's review, Jackie Brown appearances on MTV, TV spots and theatrical trailers, written reviews and articles and filmographies, and over an hour of trailers for Pam Grier and Robert Forster films dating from the 1960s onwards. The box also includes a mini-poster of the film, similar to the one above, and on the back of that, two other mini-posters—one of Grier, the other of Forster, both similar to the album cover.
Although the Special Edition DVD's back cover states that the film is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it was actually shot with a 1.85:1 ratio, the only Tarantino-directed film to date shot in such a format with the exception of his segment in the film Four Rooms, "The Man from Hollywood".
On October 4, 2011, Miramax released Jackie Brown on Blu-ray Disc along with Pulp Fiction. The film is presented in 1080p HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. The disc was the result of a new licensing deal with Miramax and Lionsgate.