The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Samuel L. Jackson
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to Sam the Man. Certainly, if anyone out there deserves to be called a badass, it’s Samuel L. Jackson. One of the absolute coolest “muthafu**as” out there, Jackson’s been kicking around for a long time. Active since the early seventies, in the twenty years of his career leading up to PULP FICTION, Jackson’s parts ran the gamut from being bit player walk-ons in studio films EDDIE MURPHY: RAW & COMING TO AMERICA or SEA OF LOVE (where the IMDB has him billed as “black guy”) to juicier character parts in movies like JUNGLE FEVER & FRESH. Around the early nineties, Jackson’s career as a solid supporting player began to pick up steam, with him appearing in decent (if minor) parts in things like PATRIOT GAMES & JURASSIC PARK (“hold on to your butts”). Of course, PULP FICTION turned that all around – big time. Not only did the part cop him a best actor Oscar nom, but it turned him into a full-fledged star. Within a year he was co-headlining DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE opposite Bruce Willis, playing star parts in movies like A TIME TO KILL and THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, and even leading the occasional film, like THE NEGOTIATOR, EVE’S BAYOU, THE CAVEMAN’S VALENTINE (underrated), FORMULA 51, etc.
Being a guy who seems to enjoy working (with him chalking up an impressive 161 IMDB credits) Jackson doesn’t always appear in great movies. In fact, some of them (KITE, THE SPIRIT) are quite bad, but Jackson’s never anything less than watchable. When given the right opportunity Jackson’s capable of being absolutely brilliant. It’s unfortunate that many of his best performances have come in movies that are fairly obscure (MOTHER & CHILD, UNTHINKABLE) but hey – the guy played both Nick Fury and SHAFT! No matter what happens, Jackson will always be a pop culture icon, but while we all put him up on a pedestal as an icon of cool, it shouldn’t be forgotten that more than anything he’s an absolutely excellent actor, and capable of much more than the “cool guy” parts mainstream Hollywood seems to typecast him in sometimes. That said, if you’re going to be typecast as anything, always playing the coolest guy in the film isn’t a bad thing to be stuck doing.
This is a no-brainer. While I’m sure younger genre fans out there will see him as Nick Fury (in which he’s cast to perfection) Jackson’s defining part will always be Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION. While yes, he’s playing the “cool” guy, Jules is actually a nuanced, three-dimensional guy. While he’s shown to be a cold-blooded professional killer it’s worth noting that Jules’ spiritual side is far from a put on. After bullets seem to “magically” go through him, Jules is genuine in his decision to give up his violent work, leading to the incredible sequence the film closes on where Jules, after foiling a robbery, spares Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny’s (Amanda Plummer) lives – no wanting to unnecessarily take another life. While undoubtedly a violent man, Jules is probably the movie’s most noble character, and (to me) still the defining figure of Tarantino’s oeuvre. That said his work as Ordell Robbie in JACKIE BROWN and Stephen in DJANGO UNCHAINED is probably just as good. Man, I can’t wait for THE HATEFUL EIGHT.
Jackson’s been in loads of underrated films. From UNTHINKABLE to 187 and so on, his quieter, more subtle turns were often his best – although it’s clear audiences prefer to see him in full “muthafu**a” mode. One of Jackson’s best-ever performances is in M. Night Shyamalan’s UNBREAKABLE. While many of us snicker at Shyamalan these days, the fact is UNBREAKABLE is a full-on masterpiece and one of the best superhero stories of our era. As the mysterious Elijah Price aka Mr. Glass, Jackson’s incredible. For most of the film he’s incredibly personable and sympathetic, making that last minute reveal arguably the most effective moment of Shyamalan’s career. For all the talk of one day continuing the saga, part of me hopes Shyamalan just leaves it alone as UNBREAKABLE is a pretty perfect one off, and a sequel could only dilute its impact.
For some reason, people of my generation (born in the eighties) seem to misremember NATIONAL LAMPOON’S LOADED WEAPON 1 as being some kind of comedy classic. That cannot be further from the truth. This is one of the dozens of awful NAKED GUN clones that popped up in the early nineties, and may be the worst of the bunch. Jackson and Emilio Estevez give it their all, but even guys like Tim Curry and William Shatner aren’t able to wring any laughs out of this. However, it does have Kathy Ireland so there’s that…
Ezekiel 25:17! Muthafu**a!
Typical for Jackson, he’s staying busy with half a dozen movies in the works including this week's BIG GAME, the TARZAN reboot, the Stephen King adaptation CELL and of course, Tarantino’s HATEFUL EIGHT. I’d love it if that last one finally netted him the Oscar he’s so long deserved.
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