Fill yer… erm, claws?
Ahh, the Western. A genre that died a decade or so ago, yet we have had a slight resurgence recently. No Country for Old Men and Inglourious Basterds (in story, not setting) are good examples, and most recently we’ve had True Grit to add to the long list of great Westerns – let alone Coen Brothers films. But you know what my favourite Western of 2011 has been so far?
That’s right. The goofish animation that’s currently doing the rounds in the cinema, the one with the nervous-looking lizard. Stay with me.
A marvellously cerebral, metaphoric opening flings us straight into the desert; our protagonist is lost, alone, in search for a meaning to his pitifully inconsequential existence. And that’s what the real heart of the film is; searching for your soul. A tiny, green lizard, searching for his soul. Stay with me, seriously. I’ll explain.
The film’s charm is in the way that it dually pays homage to its Spaghetti-Western roots, yet filling it with a new heart that’s not seen as explicitly through the genre. Its daring goes as far as to draw heavily on the existential themes present in those old Sergio Leone classics, and the main villain has his own dark plans for the town of Dirt that Rango finds himself protecting. It’s a rollicking adventure, very familar in parts but ever surprising in its innovation, and it’s not worn down into yet another Deppmobile a la Pirates of the Caribbean. His voice acting is superb here – he perfectly embodies Rango’s self-delusion and honest piety.
Unfortunately the tale is just not for kids, despite what the marketing might infer. Apart from the characters’ endlessly entertaining physical mannerisms (made possible by possibly the best, beautiful animation I’ve seen), most of the gags are of a dry demeanour, and the storyline involves murder, double back-stabbing and near-drowning. In that order.
Take heed, Coens: while I thoroughly enjoyed hunting murderers with an inebriated Jeff Bridges, the sheer extent that Rango tests its medium is riveting. Whether its strokes be self-referencing, fourth wall-breaking or oddballing, it rarely missteps. True Grit also didn’t have me beaming ear to ear for the first twenty minutes, either.