Rango can easily stand up against any western past or present when it comes to narrative, style, character, emotion and convention. It is the best movie I have seen so far in 2011 for many reasons. The night before I watched Kim Ji-woon's I Saw the Devil, which was a sadistic, bloody revenge tale that is basically torture porn. Don't get me wrong, I liked the film and it was excellently made (check the stabbing frenzy in the taxi). However by the end the protagonist and the audience are left unsatisfied by the havoc of bloodthirsty revenge. Lets say compared to Tarantino's climax of Kill Bill Vol. 2, where we get a different glance at revenge through long dialogue rather than violence overload. Even though the idea that revenge never really works the way you want it to was the aim of I Saw the Devil, that doesn't mean I have to enjoy it.
Back to Rango, a movie that also reflects Tarantino and his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, I found a much more stronger film in its characters and narrative. I love South Korean cinema, but I find it funny how the audience that also love it find it refreshing from Hollywood cinema when in fact much of the style, humor and themes are beginning to be used quite frequently. Although Rango obviously contains no bloody violence that might be seen in a Tarantino film it does provide the love of cinema and homage that is present in say Kill Bill or Inglourious Basterds. Rango not only is a dedication to the classic Hollywood western and the Spaghetti western, but its story also pays respect to one of America's greatest film noir tales: Chinatown.
Some films that play as a reference book to older films sometimes do not contain the emotional drive or attraction to their own characters, but Rango doesn't slip up here. This movie really gets you involved where you care about the characters and not just who they have parodied. The scene where an all too convincing Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy) confronts Rango (Johnny Depp) is intimidating and the sequence that follows where Rango shamefully departs the town and walks through the moon-lit desert is very moving and looks amazing. The scene where Rango meets the Spirit of the West (Timothy Olyphant) is very clever and pays great tribute to Clint Eastwood's icon, the man with no name.
Even though I knew that the ending would be a classic western happy resolution, the Chinatown references had me wondering if John Huston/Mayor character was gonna reveal his daughter to be his lover...Incest in the West? But fortunately it ended with the John Wayne tribute, walking off into the sunset with the girl.