The Tyranny of Evil Men… But Can Comedy Kill?
Straight to the point, no beating around the bush, and getting right to business, just begin to describe the mannerisms of the various characters actor Samuel L. Jackson portrays in several films produced by Quintin Tarantino. Tarantino, being known for his violent and unpredictable films, casts his actors accordingly. Rightfully so, Tarantino knows that only certain actors can convey his intended message properly, and thus he often uses many of the same actors throughout his film productions. In particular, Samuel L. Jackson has starred in six different Tarantino productions where he has, for the most part, played similar characters. Jackson is often casted as what I believe to be the enforcer of justice, whether he is on the right side of the law or not is a different story. Over the years of working together, Jackson and Tarantino developed a great relationship which is reflected in their combined work as Tarantino has said that Jackson is “one of the greatest actors to ever say his dialogue.”
A strong relationship, that initially began with disagreement, has resulted in great works of art. Coming from similar childhood backgrounds, Tarantino and Jackson are able to connect and share their thoughts clearly. Tarantino being such an unpredictable writer and director, his methods may be rather unorthodox in the work for his actors. Jackson has said that “Quentin will come in and describe a scene to you in terms of like six different films.” Having the ability to interpret and envision these scenes while incorporating the well known Tarantino dialogue, are skills that most actors have not mastered. Jackson on the other hand is able to excel at this and often improve upon the work with Tarantino.
Many people have argued, that Tarantino’s films portray the fears and stereotypes of modern America. Accordingly, Tarantino casts his films with the actors that fit certain criteria for the right roles. Some have said that Tarantino has casted Jackson, in particular, to play roles that are very stereotypical of African American mannerisms and in today’s society, this can be a very sensitive issue. But, it is quite the contrary. For example, in an interview with Charlie Rose, Jackson speaks of his being casted in Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” Jackson says that when speaking to Tarantino about his role in the film, a character named Steven, he was essentially asked to “play the most despicable negro in the history of cinema.” Jackson was not only amused by this, but intrigued by the challenge and saw this as a fun opportunity to undertake such a great role, even though it was not the main character, Django, played by Jamie Foxx. Truth be told, much the “despicable” actions of Jackson’s characters were edited out of the film on accounts of Tarantino being worried about Jackson’s personal safety off camera.
As for Jackson’s acting in Tarantino films, his true abilities are shown clearly in two films in particular. One of Tarantino’s older films from the 90’s, Pulp Fiction, as well as his latest film, The Hateful Eight. In both films, Jackson plays strong and commanding characters that not only brings a sense of strict justice to the film, but also some humor.
In 1994, Tarantino released a “black comedy crime” film, that would become known for its diverse dialogue, use “ironic mix of humor and violence,” and a nonlinear story line. Tarantino had written the film from the start having Jackson in mind to play a leading role. In the film, Jackson plays a hitman working for a powerful mobster, “Marsellus Wallace” played by Ving Rhames. We are first introduced to Jackson’s character, Jules Winnfield, as he and his fellow hitman, played by John Travolta, are on their way to interrogate someone who has stolen from Mr. Wallace. Both hitmen have their unique styles to their work and Jules, unlike his partner, is a strong believer in a higher power. Throughout the film we see Jules reference Ezekiel 25:17.
Ezekiel 25:17: ”The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
As the film progresses, we are able to see the growth of Jules as a character as his interpretation of this scripture would evolve. Jules would go from using the scripture to simply strike fear into the hearts of his victims at first, to then imagining himself as the Shepard, to finally understanding that his victims are “the weak” and he himself was “the tyranny of evil men.”
Between Jackson and Tarantino, they created this character who would not only build suspense and tension during the film through his gruesome occupation, but also have a concrete moral background for himself and his job.
Similarly In Tarantino’s latest film, premiering in December of 2015, The Hateful Eight a western mystery film, Jackson plays the role of yet another “enforcer of justice.” In this film, Jackson’s character is an ex-slave and civil war veteran who became a bounty hunter. Essentially Tarantino wrote the film to depict eight of the civil war’s most despicable characters, trapped in bar seeking refuge from a blizzard, while there is a large bounty to be had within their sight.
Jackson’s character is an outcast amongst the group caught in the bar as he is the only African American, and also due to his character’s violent background. In this film, as in Pulp Fiction, Jackson is able to manipulate his victims seamlessly with the work of Tarantino’s dialogue.
In contrast to his seriousness, Jackson does an excellent job of incorporating comedy into the film. From the start of Pulp Fiction, we are able to see the dynamics of his character while he works. The film’s second scene begins with the hitmen aggressively entering the room where the suspects are staying, and the tension builds as the mood of the scene changes. Jackson’s character comes off as “the talker” of the two hitmen and strikes up a seemingly normal conversation with the suspects, all the while letting his powerful presence gradually fills the room. This is seen throughout the film and is crucial to development of Jackson’s character.
All and all, between Tarantino’s daring films and Jackson’s brilliant acting, nothing shy of greatness has come from their work. Tarantino, well known for his unpredictable films, has a tendency to recast many of the same actors in his movies. While some viewers and critics have argued that Tarantino’s work, and in particular with Jackson, have been used to take advantage of modern stereotypes, both men have quite the opposite view. Ending his interview with Charlie Rose, Jackson makes a point to say that Tarantino is often vilified as a racist for his films. Jackson goes on to say that what those who attempt to slander Tarantino’s work overlook, is the fact that the roles Jackson plays in every film are those of the wisest characters. He finished this statement by saying that had Tarantino been a racist, he would never had been able to write such strong scripts for Jackson’s characters. For over twenty years, we have seen the famous Tarantino dialogue coupled with Jackson’s adept acting pushing the limits of cinema and continuing to be an incredibly strong duo today.