So. The consensus seems to be that Django Unchained is Tarantino on a blistering return to form. ‘His best since Pulp Fiction’, so I’ve heard. ‘Inglourious Basterds was a disaster’, ‘his last three films have been terrible’, and now he’s back on top. I’ve even heard ridiculous claims that Django is Tarantino’s best work yet. Absolutely not.
In fact, regarding the latter, I’d wager that anyone who feels that way equates a positive reaction to whatever they’re experiencing at that exact moment with it being the best thing they’ve ever seen.
I was disappointed by Django. I mean really disappointed.
I loved Inglourious Basterds. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 are amongst my many, many favourite films. Hey, even Deathproof was a fantastic tribute to the b-movie horror that runs through so much of what Tarantino does.
I get that this was in the spaghetti western tradition, and I was excited during the credit sequence to see that Ennio Morricone had written new music just for the film. I also get that spaghetti westerns are a little bit silly, but some of the shaky, jerky zooms almost felt like a parody, as opposed to a reverence.
Christoph Waltz is fantastic. The character isn’t too far removed from Hans Landa, although the moral leanings are certainly entirely different. Schultz is charming, stoic and hilarious, and the comic timing was spot on, though it’s his guilt and the resolution of it that act as more of a driving force behind the narrative than Django’s longing to find his wife.
Leonardo DiCaprio, or ‘the man who can do no wrong’, is as camp as he is terrifying as plantation owner Calvin Candie. He’s a true Tarantino psychopath, and his penchant for sweet things is precisely the level of attention to detail and depth of character that so often makes the director’s characters so captivating.
Broomhilda was the polar opposite. You only have to look at the female characters of Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, and Inglourious Basterds to see that QT can write incredibly strong, driven and fearsome female characters. Broomhilde wasn’t even a diluted version. She was just utterly pathetic. Even by your average Disney damsel in distress standards, Kerry Washington’s weepy, fainty wait to be rescued was grating, and a huge let down. It almost created a plot hole, in that I just couldn’t fathom why you would go to such lengths, kill so many people and risk so much to save this woman. There was no hint given as to any of her qualities other than being very pretty. I thought we’d got past that.
The boldest and most surprising character is Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen, whose baffling loyalty to his oppressor and contempt for his fellow slaves is a brave one to tackle on Tarantino’s part, and it works. The incredibly strong performances are what really hold the movie together, as opposed to Tarantino’s trademark violence, which even post-crazy 88 feels a little out of hand here by the final shoot ‘em up. It’s relentless, and eventually, not even particularly smart. Punctuated by a jarring cameo from the man himself, it all just gets a bit daft, and doesn’t feel all that tongue in cheek.
Sadly, it looks like you can’t have a truly ‘Tarantino’ experience without Sally Menke. Menke died, tragically, in 2010, and was noted by QT as being ‘hands down his number one collaborator’. He really misses her in Django, and it’s the loss of her sharp, stylish and witty editing that demoted this movie from the searing cult classics we’ve become accustomed to, to something better than standard fayre. I imagine she’d probably have cut out a good 45 mins of the staggeringly long running time; a lot of the duller scenes could have been stripped right back.
The movie was good. I enjoyed it, and I shan’t dispute that this is a solidly entertaining, if a little too long, good bit of fun. But Tarantino is usually so much more than a lowest common denominator blockbuster rescue caper, and I don’t think it’s wide of mark to say that Django was a really rather successful more violent, better-acted stab at just that.
6.5/10 or 3/5
By Fiona Gales