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« Is a Spike Lee Comeback in Store? | Main | The Annual GG + SAG ≠ Oscar Conundrum »

Hats Off to Mr. Jackson

Michael C here to sound some trumpets for a fine actor's return from the wilderness. There are many pleasures to be found in Django Unchained, but for me the most satisfying was being able to unambiguously love a Samuel L. Jackson performance for the first time in what feels like forever. 

Let's be frank, Jackson has always been a guy who would cheerfully say yes to just about any script that was correctly formatted. But at least back in the 90’s he would throw in an Eve’s Bayou or a Jackie Brown every once in a while. Over the last decade, however, his time has been divided between coasting on his star presence in blockbusters or squandering his considerable talent in straight up dreck like The Man or The Spirit. What attempts he has made at meaningful work have largely been dumped directly in the straight-to-video bin. (Home of the Brave anyone?) The last performance of his that left any impression on me was 2000’s Unbreakable, although your mileage may vary. Black Snake Moan had its fans, as did The Caveman’s Valentine. Whatever the case, there’s no denying the internal compass he possesses for choosing projects is severely miscalibrated.

But now there is his work in Django and damn does it feels good to seem him nail it in a big way. Jackson gave what is basically one of my favorite performances ever in Pulp Fiction and Tarantino has handed him another winner. He plays Stephen, the most trusted slave of Leo’s malevolent plantation owner and the two of them share a terrific, twisted chemistry. In terms of thematic weight Stephen's importance to the story is second only to Foxx's Django, and Jackson makes a meal out of every second of screen time. It’s a devious, deceptively simple performance. A late in the film monologue in particular should have Oscar voters second guessing whether DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, who were both Golden Globe nominated, are really the Django performances to unite behind in the awards game.

Jackson may very well turn around and follow this up with another decade of crapola (the XXX sequel listed on his IMDb page doesn’t bode well) but for now I’m pleased to see he has another performance that can stand proudly alongside Jules Winfield, Gator Purify and Sean Nelson’s alcoholic, chess playing father from Fresh (Rent it!)

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Reader Comments (18)

I just re-watched Jackie Brown, since every minute of every day I'm ready for some Jackie Brown. He's SO GOOD in it, I had somehow forgotten how funny he is. I'm glad to hear that Django might be a return to form, because with good material, he's fantastic.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

I have a much less dismissive reaction to The Spirit, frankly. It's not "great" and will never be viewed as such in it's current form, but it's fairly clear that Miller's satirizing his own overly gritty and overly sexualized stories. On those grounds, it's a modest success, with it's biggest issue being repetition. I'd estimate slicing off the right 10 minutes from the narrative would make a vast improvement.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Have you seen Mother and Child? He is very fine, and should try go against-type sometimes, without the whole badass approach.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Funny—I saw "Hats Off to Mr. Jackson" as a link from the previous blog post and I assumed that this was going to be a Hobbit rave. #WrongMrJackson

Ditto cal's mention of Mother and Child, insofar as Jackson's performance goes anyway.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

I missed Mother and Child but I believe it about his performance. Sam Jackson remains one of those guys who's just bulletproof in my eyes. No matter how much garbage he appears in my opinion of his talent is never diminished.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Good for you Michael. I thought this performance was effing amazing. Definitely in my Supporting Actor top five (along with Leo's turn as Candie). It's Jackson's best work since Pulp Fiction. Period.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Every time I see Sam Jackson phone it in for a paycheck in another crappy movie, I go home and watch his biblical monologue from Pulp Fiction. Glad to know QT is putting his talents to good use again.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJonny

Just got out of Django and SLJ is best in show for me... realky snart funny taje on a pretry clever role. But It's HILARIOUS in the bad way that they're pretending Waltz is a supporting player since he controls 9/10th of the narrative. The first half hour at Candie-Land is the strongest part of the movie but I honestly think its going to be tough for any of then to be nominated as its VERY ensemble oriented and everyone has their moments.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I thought Hoffman as supporting was going to be the biggest eye-roller category placement this year, but now with Watlz...actually, nope. It's still Philip Seymour Hoffman. But Waltz is laughable too.

And it's bad strategy too. Do they honestly think that Foxx can be nominated? Performances aside, If you're going to clear a path for anybody clear it for Leo.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Yeah, sometimes I slightly forget that Samuel L. Jackson is an Oscar-nominated actor, in a way that I forget Nicholas Cage is an Oscar-winning actor. He's done so many films that I do appreciate when he does some quality work. I think the last performance of his I really liked was either "Mother and Child" or "Resurrecting the Champ."

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

If two get nominated, I have a feeling Waltz will get left out. He is NOT supporting. I really feel like Jackson will get nominated.

CAN WE ALL just laugh at if this is our Supporting Actor category? AKA: LONGEST NAMES EVER.

Leonardo DiCaprio - DJANGO UNCHAINED
Philip Seymour Hoffman - THE MASTER
Samuel L. Jackson - DJANGO UNCHAINED
Tommy Lee Jones - LINCOLN

All I ask for is that Alan Arkin gets shutout.

December 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMcGregor

It's almost as if his overexposure makes him underrated, kind of like Bruce Willis. Either way, he's a terrific actor and should be getting the parts to match his talent, even if he's maybe somewhat at fault for taking half of the roles he did within the past decade.

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

If things go my way, you'll be seeing SLJ do something rather special in a few years.

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPrettydeadhair

Michael: I think all of them will be snubbed given that no one really standouts since everyone's so strong in the film. Academy voters that respond to the movie will get headaches just deciding which of the three--Dicaprio, Jackson, and Waltz--to place at #1.

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

BVR - That's definitely possible, but my hunch is Leo's star power will break the tie.

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

I had been hearing buzz about Jackson's performance, but it seems all the hardware will either go to Waltz or DiCaprio.

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterColin Biggs

I wish more people could see this to make the discussion more robust. Waltz is very entertaining in the movie but I don't think it's a great performance. It's more like a fun movie star performance Hans Landa in the American South, with less depth. Same for Leo. Fun performance but I'm not sure I'd say "great" acting.

But Jackson is A-MAZ-ING.

December 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

I feel like every credit on Jackson's IMDB page should just read "Badass Motherfucker."

January 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChris Fredda

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