Friday, January 4, 2013

Django Unchained

Photo: Movie poster from its Wikipedia page

Any Tarantino flick is worth seeing, and this one is no exception.  Though worth seeing, however, I can't say it was on par with his latest and greatest.  In fact, this one was the biggest disappointment for me since Jackie Brown.  Of course, a disappointing Tarantino film is still a good film, but Django could have been so much better.  One of the most glaring examples of this is that the dinner scene here tries to maintain the same unbearable tension as the basement bar scene in Inglorious Basterds, but it doesn't come close.  There is tension, of course, but not to the elevated levels of Basterds.

It went wrong when Waltz's character, King, shot DiCaprio's, which was naturally followed by King himself being obliterated.  And then all Hell broke loose.  This didn't work for me on many levels, not the least of which is that it simply isn't in King's character to do it.  He himself reminded Django what they were there for, to not lose sight of their goal--to free his wife.  They were clearly about to do this, even if it wasn't in the way that they intended.  And they were about to walk away with her; DiCaprio's character was too much of a Southern gentleman to shoot someone in the back after a business transaction.  And a handshake after a deal was, for God's sake, actually how transactions were socially, if not legally, finalized in the South back then.  Heck, even Mikey and Frankie of American Pickers do that today.  The contract is the legal law, but the handshake is the social law, and in that part of the country, they're equally important.  You can't do business with someone whose hand you can't shake.  It's a gentleman's agreement--even if, nastily enough, you're dealing in slaves.  (This was undoubtedly what led to King's repugnance about shaking his hand.)

This was followed by an even more unrealistic plot event: after shooting the iconic plantation owner--and about twenty of his men--Django gets sent to work at a mine for the rest of his days?  That's not the slavery south I've read about.  He'd have been whipped until dead, or hanged, or attacked by dogs, or even dragged to death by a horse or carriage.  Sent to work in a mine?  With three dumb hillbillies in charge of him?  Not bloody likely.

Of course it's all a cartoon.  Of course Tarantino wants to cinematically wipe out slavery in an orgy of firepower and fire, just as much as he wanted to wipe out Hitler and the Nazis with firepower and fire--and Inglorious Basterds was clearly not realistic or sensible, either.  So Django had to be able to get back to the plantation house to bring it all down.  I get that.

The difference, though, is that Inglorious Basterds' ending stayed true to its own twisted universe.  Everyone stayed true to their own twisted personas in that parallel universe of unreality.  Here, they don't.  King's character was all about logic and sensibility, and a heckuva scary guy, too, when he wanted to be.  And a fantastic, quick shot.  Would he stare at the wound he made in the white flower, or would he turn and fire upon someone he would know was going to immediately fire upon him?

Django is actually Samson unchained, of course, in this movie, so he has to be the one to knock the building of slavery down with everyone in it.  I get that.  He, and Tarantino, and perhaps even the audience is in need of that purge, just as we all were in need of purging Hitler and his crew at the end of Basterds.  Understandable.

But not like this.  How, then?  I don't know, but it's not my job to know.  That's Tarantino's job.

So go see it, because it's a Tarantino film, and it's memorable, and it's well-acted and well-directed and well-designed and well-choreographed and it's, well...well-done.  It's very well-done.  And so maybe I'm spoiled by Tarantino by now.  I want something more from him than just very well-done.   The first 80% rocks, and the last 20% is the purging, I guess, and it's very well-done--but it doesn't rock, and it doesn't jibe with the rest of the film.  It's almost two different films in that way, unevenly broken into an 80/20 split.

But you still have to go see it, of course.  So go do that.

P.S.--While standing in line to buy the tickets for this movie, a guy walked around saying that the 6:40 showing of the movie Lincoln was sold out.  I am thrilled to hear that an important and high-quality movie, with such a rare, slow pace, was still being seen by American moviegoers. 


  1. I completely agree. The more I think about when King shoots Calvin Candie, the more it is completely out of character. Why go through all the trouble of creating this sham about finding a high quality Mandingo and teaching Django to stay focused if he was going to throw it all away in one shot? And for him to apologize right after was lame. It's as if he's saying "sorry I know I'm f--king everything up right now but I couldn't resist!". That's pretty messed up when you think about it. I also agree, Django would have been tortured beyond belief after the bloodshed he caused. And yes if he were being sent away to a mine he would definitely have better supervision than those three lunkheads. I also felt some of the humor went on just a tad too long as in the Ku-Klux-Klan scene. Some of the theater audience, one woman in particular, found these scenes more funny than they actually were. I felt wrong for chuckling during a film about slavery (Tarantino or not) yet some people had no problem excessively cackling.

    Still as you said it was a well done film with a group of fine actors. It also kept me very interested and entertained from start to finish which is no small feat for an almost three hour film. I also really liked the placement of music as with most of Tarantino's films.

    1. I had an incessant cackler behind me, too. Almost ruined the film for me because she even laughed uproariously during parts that nobody else laughed at. Drove me crazy.

      I also thought the KKK scene went on too long, but it was good to see it mocked anyway. Everything you said was true--especially because you mostly agreed with me! :-) The unrealistic ending--even in an unrealistic Tarantino universe--made me give it three stars (in my Roger Ebert mind) rather than four. Still better than Jackie Brown, though.

  2. Although I'm a huge Tarantino fan, I'm a bigger Waltz fan and have been dying to see this film. Great review though I doubt I'll go to the movies to see it. Last movie I took in, like you, I had a row of obnoxious viewers who ruined the film for me. So with your review, I think I can wait till it hits dvd. Thx!

    1. Glad to save you the $11.50, or whatever the ticket prices are in your neck of the woods.

      Thanks for the compliments and welcome to the site!