ass, and with his new movie, Shaft, hitting the theatres, I thought we should pay tribute to probably the happiest actor on the planet.
Samuel L. Jackson’s filmography resembles a kid in a candy store, only this candy store happens to be trademarked by Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney. Oh, and did I mention Quentin Tarantino is part of the frequent shopper program?
It’s impossible to narrow down a Top Ten list for epic performances or legendary characters because Jackson has divulged too many. Leaving out even a couple would be blasphemous and worthy of the glare.
Yes, the glare.
This dirty look branded pop culture history when it was first unveiled behind the barrel of a 9mm pistol and accompanied by one of the most thunderous monologues of the 20th century – “And you will know my name is the Lord! When I lay my vengeance upon thee.” Of course, I’m talking about Pulp Fiction (1994), and I don’t think Samuel L. Jackson will ever escape the stache and skinny black tie image when moviegoers first hear his name. That scene is epic, establishing Jackson’s glare in cinema lore and making way for a dozen more Tarantino-inscribed clips that we still quote today.
My favorite “glare” movie? I’m still unsettled by my second viewing of Django Unchained (2012) and the boiling point of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Stephen. As he hovers awkwardly behind Leonardo DiCaprio’s shoulder and gradually catches on to Django and Dr. Schultz’s plucky escape plan, you can literally see the white in his eyes turn to red. Our protagonists were just about to get away with it, but Jackson counterpunches with a performance made out of fire. It’s one of the most sadistic things I’ve seen on the screen.
But, is it as sadistic as when his character, Major Marquis Warren, tells Confederate General, Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a little torture story about his son in The Hateful Eight (2015)? That one pushed some people out of the theatre when I first saw it. The group that stayed (including myself) divided into cringers and gut-laughers, and I did a little bit of both.
You see, that’s the thing about Samuel L. Jackson – he plays some pretty cruel characters, but they always contain a hint of justified vigilante backlash.
“YES, THEY DESERVED TO DIE, AND I HOPE THEY BURN IN HELL!”
When it comes to non-Tarantino flicks, I can’t help but recall Samuel L. Jackson’s “Hold on to your butts” line in Jurassic Park, (1993), or “Where… Is… My… Super… Suit?!” in The Incredibles (2004).
I remember seeing Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995) in the theatre with my dad and marveling at the odd couple he developed with Bruce Willis. How about when he plays local radio DJ “Mister Señor Love Daddy” in Spike Lee’s masterpiece, Do the Right Thing (1989), and oversees the emerging racial tensions in his neighborhood? I wonder what “Love Daddy” would say about today’s racial climate – “My people, my people, what can I say…I saw it but didn’t believe it…Are we gonna live together? Together are we gonna live?”
Then, there’s Elijah Prince (“Mr. Glass”), Jimmy in P.T. Anderson’s overlooked gem, Hard Eight, and Mitch Henessey, Jackson’s self-proclaimed favorite role in The Long Kiss Goodnight, and that was 23 years ago!
There are just too many.
Finally, let’s not forget that Jackson is now Shaft. The John Singleton-directed version (2000) was fair fare, but there was no doubt in Jackson’s ability to revive the funk from the ’71 original. He is simply dependable to watch and enjoy, and he will most likely stay true to form in Shaft, 2019.
Put simply, Samuel L. Jackson is a tough, uncompromising, and intimidating person on screen.
He is badass.