Django Unchained - Movie ReviewLet's talk about Django Unchained.
First of all, spaghetti westerns can be pure art when handled by someone who comprehends and enjoys the potency of adept pastiche. Tarantino is one such auter: he fetishises genre to a degree previously unseen in the history of cinema. The last time he dipped into the well of spaghetti westerns was in Kill Bill 2, and then only briefly. Here, in Django Unchained, he (very loosely) reboots the cult Django series. With mixed results.
Now now, don't be despondent. There's a great deal to like, and even love, about Django: it hits like a hammer, has a fantastic soundtrack, uses kitschy crash-zooms like they're going out of style, and has some absolutely stunning and self-aware performances, most notably from Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin J. Candie, and Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz. Waltz, incidentally, is the emotional core of this film. He bats his character around deftly like a kitten with a ball of string, utterly owning every nuance of Schultz. It's a flawless performance.
Foxx, too, brings an incredible amount of both depth and levity to Django, the former slave bought and freed by Schultz. The film effectively follows the two of them as they rid the land of bad guys for coin, and in classic Western style, grow as characters whilst doing so. The film isn't pure Western, though; it chicanes into something altogether different at around the halfway mark, after an event which left this critic feeling somewhat angry and frustrated. This might come down to personal taste, and I can't say more at the risk of ruining Django for you, but you'll know the scene when it happens.
At this point - and I apologise for being cryptic - the film becomes something akin to a blaxploitation film, and I say this as a longtime devotee of the genre. But whereas Jackie Brown (Tarantino's Pam Grier helmed and unfairly maligned foray into Blaxploitation) kept things subtle, Django careens into the realm of revenge porn, which only works (if it works at all) because of the subject matter: slavery. Slavery is rightly depicted as brutal and stupid, and Tarantino does manage to take some wonderful swipes at how slaves become institutionalised, and does so in a manner which will have audiences whooping like maniacs.
So, yes. The film is big, and harsh, and filled with endearingly sickening caricatures of fatuous plantation owners and their beleaguered slaves, and it's thoroughly enjoyable to watch. But I can't help feel that both Django and Inglorious Basterds suffer as films because they're unkind, once they pass a certain point. Django in particular possesses the innate exhilaration of Kill Bill, but makes unnecessary moves to jack up the stakes, thereby robbing the film of something vital.
For me, the film soars for the first two thirds, crashes hard after that, and makes an exultant return right at it's conclusion, a return that could have been vastly improved upon if Tarantino had tackled certain elements of the story differently. Again, I apologise for being vague, but the film comes so close to perfection that I can't help lamenting it's shortcomings.
Ahh, what might have been, Django. What might have been.
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