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"The best actor in the world," according to Quentin Tarantino

An icon of cinema and style, Quentin Tarantino is possibly the most influential director of the 21st century. His reign of cult cinema began in the early 1990s and continues to this day. Tarantino’s cinematic approach features sharp, snappy dialogue, cinematic vigour and eccentric characterisation, bringing some of the silver screen’s most prominent personalities to light, all of whom revel in his ingenious storytelling tactics and pervasive violence.

Having worked with some of the industry’s most critically acclaimed actors, including Leonardo DiCaprio, John Travolta, Samuel L.Jackson, Brad Pitt and Uma Thurman, it was the eclectic cast of his 1997 film Jackie Brown that would garner the most media attention. Starring Pam Grier, Michael Keaton, Chris Tucker and Robert De Niro, Tarantino’s third feature film bookended the director’s flawless debut trilogy of un-connected cinema, showing a rare air of slow, steady sophistication. 

Acquiring the rights to Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, Tarantino adapted the novel into a screenplay following the release of Pulp Fiction. Changing the ethnicity of the main character from white to black and renaming her from Burke to Brown, naming his new screenplay Jackie Brown. Closely following Leonard’s novel, Tarantino also incorporated his dark humour and love of snappy storytelling.

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Jackie Brown is Tarantino’s masterpiece of characterisation, where every individual feels separate and tangible, autonomous and larger than the runtime of the film itself. The tenacious Pam Grier leads the film down a slow narrative spiral, playing mind games with the supporting cast of devious villains and slimeballs. One of these undesirables is Robert De Niro’s Louis Gara, a criminal associate and old cellmate of Samuel L.Jackson’s Robbie, providing a performance Quentin Tarantino heavily praised. 

Speaking in an interview with Charlie Rose upon the release of Jackie Brown, Tarantino stated, “He deserves his reputation as probably the greatest actor of his generation”. Continuing, he comments, “I think he is the best actor in the world. I’ve never seen an actor so completely consume himself in character, in true character work during the work. And what I mean by that is when Robert is playing Louis…he is working moment to moment”. 

“DeNiro has that down. He is so in character,” the director concludes, completing his shining speech about the great American actor. Perhaps better known for working with Martin Scorsese on Taxi DriverRaging Bull and Mean Streets, Robert De Niro’s performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown ranks among the best of his glowing career. 

Working in a video store in his youth, Tarantino built up an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, recommending movies to each and every customer who walked through the door. Knowing his generation of moviemakers and actors like the back of his hand, when further questioned by Jim Hoberman about the greatest actors of his lifetime, Tarantino was able to give an immediate response. 

“Sean Penn, Tim Roth, and Nick Cage,” he promptly replied, before giving careful reasons behind his choices. Featuring in several of his films, including Pulp Fiction and The Hateful Eight, the director chooses Roth “because of his versatility and ferociousness,” adding that, “he’s got this chameleon quality”. 

As for Sean Penn, the actor behind the Brian De Palma movie Carlito’s Way, Tarantino delights in his “sheer sexual-violence charisma,” praising him for his collaborations with some of the greatest filmmakers of all time, from Clint Eastwood to Terrence Malick. It was in the Eastwood movie Mystic River the Penn would win his first Academy Award in 2004, taking home his second for Milk five years later. 

Concluding his trio of generational talents, Tarantino chooses the “fearlessness” of Nicolas Cage, explaining, “I don’t think that I’ve ever seen another actor in the history of film that made a career of being miscast and rising to the occasion”. Though mocked for his bizarre film choices, in the critical sphere of cinema, Cage is celebrated as a true great, winning the Academy Award for Leading Actor in 1996 for Leaving Las Vegas. Though he has worked with Tim Roth, Tarantino has strangely never reached out to collaborate with Sean Penn or Nicolas Cage, despite both actors both still working in the modern industry. As much as we’d love to see Penn or Cage star in Tarantino’s next feature film, something’s telling us that they won’t be able to reach the grandeur of Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown.

Take a look at the trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s classic film below.

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