Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Quentin Tarantino
FILM OF THE MONTH JANUARY 2013
Now let us get one thing straight, if you walked into this expecting your usual Tarantino you’d be left wanting. This is not ‘Pulp Fiction’ or ‘Reservoir Dogs’ or even ‘Inglorious Basterds‘… this is Django Unchained and in terms of Tarantino’s career it’s a huge game changer. But is it any good?
The story: Django (Foxx) is a slave who is freed by Dr King Schultz (Waltz) in order to help Schultz catch a notorious band out outlaws and claim a bounty. As events transpire though Schultz takes a liking for Django and the pair decide to team up, first seeking down and killing every one of Schultz’s targets and then afterwards heading to Mississippi to rescue Django’s wife (Washington) from the infamous Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). What we get is 2 hours and 45 minutes (YES THAT IT’S THAT LONG) of tension rising in peeks and troughs with small pockets of action in between.
It seems that age has tempered the beast in Tarantino’s case here. He seems to have gone the Francis Ford Coppola route preferring for rather long winded sequences that build tension to boiling point before he “pulls the trigger” on the violence and attempts to hit home with a hammer. The plot is very simple, nothing extra really happens other than what is stated above so why the long running time Quentin? In all honesty it probably should have ended 30 minutes before it did and in better style. The first hour is great and establishes the famed pairing of Waltz and Foxx well, the second hour introduces DiCaprio’s Candie and his territory of Candie land but it’s too long winded and drags… and drags until the villain of the piece realises Django’s plot to rescue his wife. Even at that point Tarantino prefers to drag it out again and build more tension that is unnecessary. We finally reach a point where we are screaming for Django to open his veritable can of whoop ass and when he does it lasts two minutes and he’s defeated once again so that he has to come back one more time to try and save the day. In the end the wait for the action in the film doesn’t satisfy your imagination. It feels a bit too easy in the end… if someone was that hard to kill you’d make sure to do it when you had them strung up by their ankles. All in all it’s not as snappy as ‘Inglorious Basterds’ you’ll be left wondering why the ending is so supposedly fantastic. Tarantino actually copied himself this time and ends the film in a similar way to last time round.
But that’s enough negativity… lets talk positives
It feels like the Western was made for Tarantino, it’s a genre fuelled by a grit and determination and is a culture forged on violence, a match made in heaven you may say. Yet there isn’t as much gun toting as you’d like but the man knows this genre to a tee and pulls it off. Next to something like Sergio Leone would have done it doesn’t feel like a tribute or a failed attempt. In the pantheon of the Western the most recent ones to grace Hollywood were ‘True Grit’ which was an adaptation and so prospered… ‘3:10 to Yuma’ was terrible… Django Unchained falls somewhere between the two in terms of success and doesn’t seem false.
Also Tarantino is very aware of “who to kill” in his films. Early on in his career he took it upon himself to show us mindless criminal thugs murdering each other mercilessly… we couldn’t complain they all deserved it. In ‘Kill Bill’ every victim is not simply of circumstance but the focus of revenge. In ‘Inglorious Basterds’ Tarantino knew that scalping innocent people was wrong but that when it’s a Nazi soldier it becomes funny and moves into the realms of fantasy. Django Unchained is similar, 99% of the people that die in this film are either racist, blood thirsty or both those things combined. Schultz explains to Django in one scene as he prepares to shoot a farmer who is with his son that the man is a criminal and so cannot repent for his crimes. He does this so we do not question the moral idea of murdering a man in front of his teenage son… its whether you agree with this or not that determines your love for Tarantino. Is a Nazi soldier comparable to a train robber?
Jamie Foxx in the lead role is excellent and personally this reviewer is rather glad that Will Smith turned the role down. He played the part with just enough swagger and arrogance to make Django stand amongst the greatest of Tarantino’s characters to date. Just for the line “I like the way you die boy” he will be loved and quoted for many years to come.
Similarly Waltz puts in another great performance as German bounty- hunter King Schultz. If you could summarise his character in this film it would be “a nice Hans Landa” his approach to dialogue is exactly the same but his morals are the polar opposite and another Oscar should be on his cards.
Leonardo DiCaprio again proves that he is an actor with no limits and one that refuses to be pigeon-holed. His portrayal of Calvin Candie is chilling and sickens you to think that at one time some of the most powerful men in America thought and acted just like Candie. He is truly an evil bastard and doesn’t quite die with enough justice as we’d like.
Samule L. Jackson as Candie’s man servant Steven is as per usual top class and doesn’t fail to impress. Being both hilarious and foreboding at the same time is a hard feat but its one he achieves time and time again.
Ultimately Django Unchained is a film that suffers from its directors own self indulgence. The pacing is incredibly wrong and doesn’t flow as seamlessly as it should. When a film runs to nearly three hours there needs to be enough story to justify that investment of interest. At times it has you twiddling your thumbs as you know what will happen next but you have to wait half an hour to see your imaginations enacted. However the acting performances keep it compelling enough to engage you for long periods but not completely. It also leaves you wondering what Tarantino is going to do next… my bet is on a 1950’s Godfather- esque gang thriller as it seems that Tarantino is going all Tim Burton on us and is having a crack at every genre he can get his hands on. It would be nice for a change to see him take a step sideways and attempt something different and move out of his comfort zone. At this point in his career he is a good director but excellent directors are ones that can apply their skills to all kind of narratives and not just films that end in a curtain of blood. That being said Django Unchained may not win over Tarantino- sceptics but it does just enough to keep his loyal fan base foaming at the mouth. Let one thing be said, if you ever find yourself in Candie Land… make sure you’ve got plenty of bullets because you’ll need them… for a bit