Jackie Brown ★★★★★

"What the fuck happened to you, man? Your ass used to be beautiful."

Whenever great Robert De Niro performances are discussed, his work in Jackie Brown rarely comes up. It’s understandable: his role is a supporting turn; this relatively low-key, leisurely paced character study about aging and ambition didn’t generate the kind of buzz and box office expected from a Quentin Tarantino film after Pulp Fiction (1994); and there are, arguably, four other equally great performances in the film (by Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Bridget Fonda, and QT axiom Samuel L. Jackson). But I’ve rarely seen De Niro disappear into a role as thoroughly as he does here, all the more remarkable given the fact that he was at the height of his career at the time and was just coming off (typically) hard-nosed turns in films such as Heat and Casino (both 1995).

In a lot of what De Niro has done since then, whether Analyze This (1999) (or its 2002 sequel), Meet the Parents (2000) (or its 2004 and 2010 sequels), or even the recent Silver Linings Playbook (2012), he’s basically channeling the characters he essayed early on in his career, for better or worse. He has created an identity and it obviously still sells. In Jackie Brown, as Louis Gara, he’s a middle-aged, over-weight failure with some sort of a chronic respiratory problem. I can't even imagine what Heat's Neil McCauley or James Conway of Goodfellas (1990) would think of him. Fonda’s character is right: it’s hard to believe this dude is an ex-con, and, along with QT’s typically brilliant writing, De Niro has a lot to do with it. It’s one of his finest, least self-conscious performances. Jackson’s character is wrong: De Niro’s "ass" was, is, and will always be beautiful.