Finally, a Tarantino steal-fest I can completely support. Ever since he became the hotshot American director in the 90s, I’ve always had a problem with Tarantino’s “no-obscure-movie-left-to-steal-from” style. His constant mish-mashing of his childhood favorites like Leone, Peckinpah, 70s Grindhouse, Shaw Brothers kung-fu movies, old-school samurai films etc… always left a bad taste in my mouth. My usual consensus is “The more movies you watch, the less you like Tarantino”, since his films are usually a collage of scenes from a lot of other, usually better films.
I think his only great film so far is Jackie Brown, simply because it’s not about genre caricatures, but characters you can relate to and actually care about how they end up. After his fans that simply wanted more typical Tarantino craziness rejected Jackie Brown, he obliged them in spades with Kill Bill, Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds.
My problem with these films, most of all with Inglorious Basterds, is that they fail to fully embrace their Grindhouse influence and try so desperately for some art-house glory. They offer ridiculously two-dimensional characters pulled straight out of pulp novels and old-fashioned revenge flicks and try to add depth where there is none. Inglorious Basterds is a prime example since it’s more like two completely different films fighting one another for more screen time rather than one single movie.
But all is forgiven with Django Unchained, because this time Tarantino doesn’t have any objective but to present an epic tale of revenge, blood, guts and all kinds of badassery in a glorious scramble of Leone and Peckinpah. It’s not a great film by any means, but boy is it a bloody good time at the movies!
I so awaited him to get back to more mature filmmaking like Jackie Brown that I didn’t realize how entertaining it could be if he finally fully embraced his Grindhouse roots without any art-house objectives whatsoever.
Man, this is a violent movie full of ass-kicking gunfights accompanied by either sweet Morricone tunes or gangsta rap! And believe me, this is a good thing. When Django (Jamie Foxx), sprays bullets through bad guys, exploding their body parts in awesome crimson (Real squibs I might add, none of that CGI blood crap) and the walls are literally painted with blood, you will find yourself in spaghetti western heaven by way of sweeter-than-honey blaxploitation fare.
The story is simple and so are the characters. We are treated yet again to one more classic revenge tale. Django and his anti-slavery bounty hunter partner Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) go after evil slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in order to save Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from slavery.
Apart from the bloody mile-a-minute violence, the screenplay is once again full of that quaint, overly specific Tarantino dialogue. And who better than Christoph Waltz to deliver? I believe with Waltz, Tarantino finally found his DeNiro and should cast him in every one of his films from now on. Maybe he can play all of the parts next time, I wouldn’t mind.
His Oscar-winning turn in Inglorious Basterds was mired by Brad Pitt and the Basterds’ cringe worthy vaudeville show, but this time he is let loose to fully do his thing. The scene where he shoots a sheriff in cold blood in the middle of a crowd and asks to speak to the marshal is funny as hell.
Of course there’s a scene where a character, usually the bad guy, almost breaks the fourth wall in order to give the audience a sociology or biology lesson, like in every Tarantino film. In this case, DiCaprio presents a splendidly offensive take on the skull structure of slaves. The scene is intense and frightful, full props to DiCaprio for going all the way with a mustache-twirling baddie.
Jamie Foxx exudes Shaft-level coolness and was the perfect choice for the part (I think the first choice, Will Smith, could not appear as ruthless). A bit part by Don Johnson as the leader of a Klan-like lynch mob is wholly welcome.
Django Unchained is an unapologetically violent and proudly offensive film. Yet I don’t look at it as simply a throwback to the hyper-violence of the films Tarantino is so fond of. It is a three-hour blood-fest that manages to stand on its own two feet but will also satisfy droves of Leone and Peckinpah fans.