Quienten tarantino’s Django Unchained left me conflicted. It was a small print cliche cut from an unbeliever’s cloth(tarantino the guru of postmodern entertainment cinema) . On the one hand it was tarantino’s use of the Histories as entertainment pulp. He has done it to events (Besterds) and genres(blaxploitation: Jackie brown, Asian cinema : kill bill) irritatingly lightheartedly ,on the other, this film almost felt personal. Here was the Sultan of the ironic almost meaning it. Repeatedly. The signs were unmistakable. Tarantino is aging and almost wants to be taken seriously. Call out the posse! Burn the sumbisch in a klan rally. He would love to almost go like that..
Django unchained is a cast of unforgettable character portraits each etched from somewhere in Hollywood’s western genre history, wrapped in a forgettable narrative , in unremarkable scenes of violent action that add up perhaps to a sequel, but not much more.
The funny thing is that the viewer does not feel for the lost opportunity for greatness. We know Tarantino is not making masterpiece “andrei tarkovski” Cinema. We have watched quienten’s lack of seriousness blow it once too often. For the better or for the worse he is Hollywood’s rodeo clown.
What counts in this film, however, is the terrible certainty with which he sketches out his gallery Portraits. QT almost means it…before he says naah! only kidding! and lets it all drop into crass pandersome banality that have been the hallmark .
Django is played with understated violent passion by foxx (who is becoming the Sidney poitier of this generation).Christopher waltz plays tarantino…er..Dr Schultz a German bounty hunter dentist revolted by the slave owning culture of the deep south. Kerry washington a misspelt brunhilda(broomhilda) Django’s wife slave Nice touch. Black slaves used to jump brooms to wed. She has a childlike innocence that you would see in an underaged streetwalker, Leo di caprio plays Calvin Candie in a 18th century version of the 1 percent. Samuel L Jackson plays the unforgettable Uncle Tom capo de regime Stephen. And then there are a multitude of small and large minor characters each of whom etch in your memory as indication of Tarantino’s promise for the narrative, which he then lets flag like erectile dysfunction.
But this review is not a lament about the loss of an erection, it is a celebration of the moments. for instance, when the overseers in the plantation get a naked broomhilda out of the metal box she’s been locked in for punishment, and cart her in a wheelbarrow naked and in a foetal position. Like when Dr Schultz remembers this when the sunburnt sister of the plantation’s Massa (an understated elegant performance by Laura Cayoutte) plays Beethoven and he is revolted by it. As when Broomhilda is led, dressed for a night with Dr Schultz and slowly realizes that this is a rescue and her husband is in the next room . Of when after burning the plantation’s big house down , Fox does dressage tricks for his wife to see before riding off…Of the Terrible reversal of roles when Samuel L Jackson does the big reveal to Leo di caprio of the real intention of the slave traders.
These moments are NOT few and far between. They litter the script. Tarantino is also a very visual filmmaker. many of these are instinctive cinematic narration , that need not at all have been rehearsed and discussed in a written screenplay. Many of the frictions between the black and black charecters (such as when the slave girl designated to show fox around the house is cornered for questioning by fox, she first sees it as an advance by him) come across as Authentic and wholehearted, without getting stagey.
Such authenticity is fitterred away because there is a lack of teleology to Tarantino’s narrative. The script is all dressed up and has nowhere to go. The 1965 Django was a lone gunman who dragged a coffin to the lair of the bad guys and the big reveal there was the Maxim Machine gun he carried out his massacre with. When Django is unchained here, he has no big reveal except, quite predictably, burning the plantation down. Come on Mr T! at least make him president or sump’n!
The film , though not memorable, will not be without its markers in history. It is the first western I have seen set in the deep south. It thus brings together two subalterran histories: The “Birth of a Nation ” filmmaking conventions of Hollywood, and The early John ford (The Searchers) western tradition of hollywood cinema and makes a blaxploitation film for the 21st century. Its earnestness (completely authentic costumes adn production design) and tarantino’s incapability to tell a serious story beyond a point lets the film down.
This film also suffers from unfortunate timing coming on the wake of the massacre of schoolkids in Connecticut. that’s a pity because I have never seen so many white people shot dead by a black guy (not even by Mr T ) in films for a very long time…maybe ever.