Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)

Django Unchained
Oh dear.

Never mind any concerns about whether Tarantino is ‘allowed’ to make a film about slavery (of course he is), nor any worry about overuse of the ‘N-word’ (Tarantino is surely right that it would be utterly incongruous to make a film about slavery and not have racists liberally use it).

No, my problems with this film are purely about the quality of it, which is indescribably patchy and is utterly abandoned at the end.

Based on a 1966 ‘Spaghetti Western’ which had the reputation of then being the most violent film ever made, Django Unchained starts off with an amazing shot of slaves being led across a rocky, barren landscape unlike any I’ve seen before, shot beautifully but intercut with schlocky titles and cheesy music. This deliberate homage to its roots is one of the big problems with the film for me (though not the biggest). ‘Cult’ is something that happens, it is not something that you design and Tarantino is simply trying too hard, for my taste.

These opening sequences set up the liberation of Django (Jamie Foxx) by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Taking Django to identify some of his targets, Schultz soon identifies Django as a ‘natural’ shot (though his preternatural ability as a horse rider is completely ignored) and enters into a bargain with him, to work together through the winter and then help Django recover his wife, Hildy (Kerry Washington). Despite occasional lapses into blatently retro-styled flashback sequences and similarly heavy-handed nods to his inspiration, Tarantino generally sets up a rather enjoyable ‘buddy cop’ situation, and the story sets up nicely, even though it requires quite a hefty slice of suspension of disbelief.

By the time we encounter the main villain of the piece, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candy, and his butler Stephen (Samuel L Jackson), I was ready for a tense and dramatic encounter. It didn’t happen. What we got instead was a bloodbath of absurd and cartoonish dimensions that was only a preliminary to the finale. It was so over-the-top that I initially wondered whether – and rather hoped – that it was a dream sequence. This destroyed any engagement I’d had with the film. I was now just waiting for it to finish but had to encounter one of the most self-indulgent and poorly acted directorial cameos in movie history and then a finale that was as disappointing as it was absurd and long overdue.

I love Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, have yet to see Jackie Brown but, after the crashing disappointment of Kill Bill (both parts 1 & 2), I didn’t bother with Inglourious Basterds – it simply didn’t appeal – but this looked more interesting. Like Bill, it squanders any good will from me with cartoonish bad taste and self-indulgence at the expense of story-telling. Childishness can be refreshing, but it can also be infuriating repetition of inanity, and Tarantino now seems to have a regrettably free hand to shout the same old rubbish at his audience over and again.

I think I’m done with him now. Ditch this and watch Blazing Saddles instead – bad taste that is actually well made and funny.

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