April 13, 2013

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino, 2012

          Django is a slave surprised to find himself suddenly freed by a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Chistoph Waltz). He joins up with Schultz to assist in pursuing outstanding warrants, specifically a familiar trio, while also on a quest to find and free his shackled wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). 
          After watching this I was wondering two things. One, am I outgrowing Tarantino? Is the gore, violence, verbose dialogue becoming too passe for me? Two, is Tarantino himself trying too hard now? At age 50, is he still trying to be cool? This is a departure from Inglourious Basterds, which I now believe is Tarantino's BEST FILM. Basterds gave me the feeling that Tarantino had grown-up. That film seemed so refined while still maintaining the themes of violence, tension and gore that you've grown accustomed to seeing in Tarantino's films. In fact, the tension in Basterds was applied perfectly. But in Django it feels like he took a step back. Tarantino wanted to put his name on the spaghetti-western, with enough blood and gore to make Sam Peckinpah smile in his grave. And he probably did. But what happened to the tension? I can't think of one scene in Django where I was on the edge of my seat like I was in that farmhouse scene in Basterds. The close-up of the beer in the Saloon had the level of intimacy that a Budweiser commercial would, while the closeup of the dessert in Basterds had me so in the moment that I felt I could taste it. Is history going to prove me wrong? Are we going to look back on the dinner scene at Candieland like we do with the Big Kahuna Burger eating scene in Pulp Fiction? I don't think so.
           There aren't several sub-plots or much back-story like Tarantino usually serves you in his films. The story felt basic. There were cutaways to past events that took me out of the moment. The sudden hallucinations of Broomhilda (taking a bath, on the roadside) were supposed to reinforce some kind of abstract thought but I found it to be empty. The best part of the film was certainly in the final hour, but even that had its flaws. Tarantino had to have his cameo, which I never would have a problem with. I loved his cameo in Pulp Fiction and in Reservoir Dogs. But what was that accent? I suppose it was supposed to be Australian? 
          I don't think its fair to be negative about every aspect about this film. There were certainly some admirable qualities to it. Great cinematography. Beautiful shots of the southern landscape... willow trees, beautiful mountains, authentic western towns. Great sound - the score added some flare and took risks. I liked the use of hip-hop during a couple of the scenes. History should be kind to that decision. Most of the acting was great. Cristoph Waltz, Quentin Tarantino's biggest gift to cinema, clearly deserved his Oscar for this performance. The only criticism I'll make about his role is the template itself seemed awfully similar to his role in Basterds. The second best performance, in my opinion, was by Samuel L. Jackson. I didn't even see him coming. It took me a couple minutes to realize it was him. Jackson, who usually plays a caricature of himself, delivered the best performance I've seen from him in years. Dicaprio was fine in his role as Calvin Candie, but I was left wondering if someone else could have better served the role as the younger plantation owner. Someone, like Tom Hardy, perhaps?
          Django Unchained is a Tarantino film that FEELS like a Tarantino film. I suppose my expectations were high, and they weren't met. I haven't given up on him, and I'll be sitting here excited for what he's going to do next.

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