Well it’s been fun counting the films up to Tarantino’s latest release, and reliving each one of them certainly got me in the mood for this adventure. Nevertheless, I’m going to have to end this ‘Tarantino Week’ on an anticlimax since the film in question is rather bof, as the French might say.
The year is 1858, and Jamie Foxx plays Django (silent ‘d’, apparently) a slave who is freed in the opening scene by a Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German dentist-cum-bounty-hunter. Django is treated as an equal, as the two ride around shooting criminals. One night, Django reveals that he wants to free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a slave working under Mr. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). They conjure up a cunning plan to rescue her, but their plan falls short when Candie’s loyal servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) sees what is going on.
The plot is semi-decent but is not a patch on Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds. There’s nothing intricate, deep or even remotely clever about the story, and it definitely does not warrant its 165 minute length. On top of this, while Tarantino’s characters usually have several layers to them, everybody in this film was simply too predictable: Christoph Waltz hates slavery, so he’s the good guy, and stays consistently good throughout; Jamie Foxx is always angry at white people, and wants to kill them; Leonardo DiCaprio simply remains a douchebag throughout the movie; only Samuel L. Jackson remains interesting. I wasn’t sure what his role would be in this film, and we don’t get to see him for a good 90 minutes. However, when he finally appears, the wait is worth it. An old man with white hair, he stumbles out of the house and looks incredulously at Django sitting on a horse like a white man. Throughout Django’s stay, Stephen constantly argues about the rights that he is given, and his bitter personality is actually quite refreshing, and his unfounded loyalty to Mr. Candie is most intriguing.
The film is quite controversial because of its ‘unflinching’ attitude towards slavery, featuring heavy usage of the word ‘nigger’, and scenes of black people being whipped or otherwise treated unequally. Personally, I found Tarantino’s take on slavery rather bland, simply depicting it as wrong and immoral, without doing anything very interesting with it. In terms of being moved by the injustice of slavery, To Kill A Mockingbird definitely shocked me more. I find the idea of having your alibis ignored simply because of your race much more harrowing than being torn apart by dogs. As an aside, this is rather similar to the way I feel about the climax of 1984: I found the concept that your perception of truth could be taken away a lot more frightening than the idea that rats might gnaw off your face.
When I watched Argo, I incredulously watched as the country of Iran would shoot an American on sight, but wouldn’t bat an eyelid if a Canadian walked by. In Django Unchained, I was bemused by the fact that as soon as it was revealed that Django was a free man, everyone started to treat him as an equal, pouring him drinks and giving him meals. The racism wasn’t entirely consistent.
As I’ve said before, with Tarantino films you need to be very patient and hope that the director has something good in store. If you find a gory shoot out where human bodies literally explode with blood every time they are shot to be ‘something good’, then you might actually enjoy the pay-off. That said, if you detest gratuitous violence, then this will not be your cup of tea, and you’ll probably leave the theatre grumbling. Personally, I lapped it up, knowing this was going to be the best scene in the film. The amount of blood is unreal, and the body count satisfyingly high. On the other hand, it’s far from Tarantino’s best, and images of the Crazy 88 from Kill Bill swiftly come to mind.
Perhaps one of my favourite things about spaghetti Westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is that there isn’t much talking, where actions speak louder than words. Of course, Tarantino films are usually nothing but talking, with a few sparse action scenes thrown in for good measure, making it slightly awkward watching him trying to fit his trademark style to an age-old genre. While some of the film seemed to have some very ‘Western’ moments, it played out more like a twisted period drama.
There are quite a few redeeming moments in Django Unchained, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that the film is nowhere near as good as it could have been. The story is too simple, and is drawn out over an extraordinary amount of time; the characters are too clear-cut, with no room for profoundness; the slavery is uninteresting; and the spaghetti Western theme is simply not used to its full potential. What a disappointment.