Quickie review of “Django Unchained…” (Please bear in mind that I watch all movies nowadays with one eye on a toddler, so everything I write should be taken with a 33-lb. grain of bouncing salt.)
I’m not sure I like the trajectory of Quentin Tarantino’s latest offerings. I can’t tell if he’s interested in making satisfying semi-serious revenge flicks or goofy grindhouse satires. In both “Inglorious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” I feel like a quarter of the way into the film Tarantino said “Fuck it, I’m just making a normal film.” Which would be fine if it weren’t so jarring. Besides, I don’t watch Tarantino films for “normal;” I want to be cringing or laughing or saying “That’s so goddamn clever.” I really do think Tarantino needs to maintain some sort of focus on the feel of his films. Otherwise, his stuff starts to feel like a cinematic patchwork quilt. That’s not a satisfying movie-watching experience for me.
That’s not to say that “Django Unchained” has nothing to recommend it. It has lots of stuff to recommend it. It’s visually-arresting, it’s occasionally emotionally-wrenching, and the performances of all actors were terrific.
I do have a problem with the title, however. I’m not sure how it came to be named “Django Unchained,” since the focus of the film seems to be a snarky Christoph Waltz. I really do think a more appropriate title for the film would have been something like “Impish German Bounty Hunter Unchained (Oh, Also There’s this Freed Slave There Too).” Now, I’m all for unchaining ChristophWaltz, who is 57,000 kinds of awesome…but when the film is called “Django Unchained,” I kinda wanna see Jaime Foxx strutting his stuff. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.
I also think the film also veers into “…And a white man shall lead them” territory. I mean, I recognize that the film takes place when Waltz’ character would have had considerably more agency than Django, so he’s more free to act the badass. But I’m not sure a Quentin Tarantino revenge flick is the time and place for strict historical accuracy. And, ya know what? Don’t call it “Django Unchained” when a more accurate title would have been “Dr. Shultz Gets all the Best Lines.”
I’m also unsure as to how to feel about Samuel L. Jackson’s “house negro.” He was one of the movie’s most repellant villains…and he’s black (obviously). He was a “go along to get along” character, an oppressed minority ready to stomp on the necks of other oppressed people to aggrandize and garner power for himself. I find these characters fascinating because these sorts of people are very much still with us today in the form of people like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Allen West. These are all people would happily screw people like themselves into order to get praise and validation from the people at the top of what they see as an order-keeping hierarchy. So his character is a brilliantly-realized success. I’m just not sure how I feel about his being such a major of component of a film that’s presumably about the horrors of slavery.
I really think that, like “Inglorious Basterds,” “Django Unchained” has a lot to recommend it. I think it’s worth seeing. I just found it disappointing–on several levels–ultimately.