“Django Unchained”

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

Django Unchained movie stillThe latest in Tarantino’s Minorities Get Revenge on White People Series, the director said on Fresh Air that if the audience doesn’t cheer Django at the end, he’s failed. Well, the audience I saw it with didn’t cheer. [I'm hiding the rest below the fold as it contains spoilers.]

The movie beings promisingly with Christoph Waltz as a charismatic German bounty hunter and Jaime Foxx as his bewildered yet stoic protégé. Foxx’s Django just happens to be a perfect sharpshooter and seemingly impervious to bullets, which robs the story of a lot of narrative drive and suspense. The second act is bloated — a good 45 minutes could’ve been cut — and third act contains Tarantino’s worst scene since his segment in Four Rooms in which Django convinces the world’s dumbest slave traders to free him by retelling what we’ve seen for the previous 30 minutes. [1] As a visual analogue to his weak storytelling, Tarantino appears in the Worst Director Cameo Ever as an Australian cowboy. As a friend pointed out, “It’s like that scene in Attack of the Clones where Yoda does all those flips with the lightsaber. Didn’t anyone tell Lucas how stupid that was?” Indeed, didn’t anyone on set tell Tarantino how ridiculous he looked and sounded? The ending is so slapdash it’s almost as if Tarantino meant it to be nonlinear but forgot to clue us in.

Story problems aside, I enjoyed the visuals and Robert Richardson’s cinematography. As Steve Sailer notes in his review, Tarantino knows where to point the camera. I’ll leave it to friend-of-the-blog Lloyd Fonvielle to evaluate the Western period detail but I found it sufficiently immersive, even if it was clear Foxx and Waltz didn’t know how to ride a horse. But the principal actors all seemed to be enjoying themselves and Samuel L. Jackson especially had a great time playing the movie’s true villain, Evil Uncle Ben.

Uncle Samuel[1] I just noticed that Tarantino’s long-time editor, Sally Menke, died in 2010. Perhaps that had something to do with the distended final product?

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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22 Responses to “Django Unchained”

  1. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    It’s funny, prior to “Kill Bill,” you probably wouldn’t have been able to convince me that “bloated” would become a word regularly applicable to Tarantino’s stuff. Now, it’s about the first word that comes to mind when I think of him…though I guess “Death Proof” was pretty lean. As for his cameos, I have this sense that QT has spent much of his life wishing to play the really ridiculous white villain in a ’70s blaxploitation flick. (Not sure if I just came up with that on my own or if I’ve unconsciously stolen it from someone else.)

  2. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    Amusing QT interview in which he gets pretty testy. What’s funny about it to me is that he thinks that, by making “Basterds” and “Django,” he’s keeping the memories of the holocaust and slavery alive, or reinvigorating them, or something. I’m not sure what world he lives in, but in the one I live in it’s just about impossible to escape the holocaust and slavery — they seem foundational to the very concept of modern America. They’re safe topics, in other words. Most of the debate surrounding “Django” seems based on 1) the violence, and 2) the use of the n-word. In other words, it’s a debate that’s not even new where QT’s work is concerned. But I guess if he wants to think of himself as a radical…

    I haven’t seen DU yet, but I’m sort of looking forward to it. He’s the weirdest filmmaker. No else is really like him.

    • Blowhard, Esq. says:

      I expected the violence to be a lot worse than it actually was. Every gunshot produced a spurt of blood, big deal. In the Fresh Air interview he says the violence was initially far more intense but preview audiences were so shocked that he had to tone it down. I’m guessing the director’s cut will restore everything.

      As for use of the n-word, I thought it would be distracting but it didn’t bother me. I couldn’t help but wonder if the white actors especially had fun exercising their license to do something forbidden.

      • Fenster says:

        I also think audiences–and critics–enjoyed a free pass on the forbidden. But then needed high-minded justification for their pleasure.

  3. Sax von Stroheim says:

    I love Tarantino, in general, and liked “Django Unchained”, although it might be close to being my least favorite of his movies. It’s the first of his films that really feels bloated (rather than full) to me: the entire third act just isn’t very compelling partly for structural issues, and partly because Django himself isn’t as interesting a character as Schultz or Candie are.

    Regarding the politics: it isn’t so much that the anti-slavery view is rare, but I do think the movie’s complete repudiation of any kind of “lost cause”/Gone with the Wind-style romanticism is pretty uncommon in American movies (especially in westerns, which often feature noble ex-Confederates as heroes).

    • Blowhard, Esq. says:

      >>and partly because Django himself isn’t as interesting a character as Schultz or Candie are.

      I agree. Django is basically a superhero, all those bullets and he doesn’t even get winged. And he’s perfect with a gun (where’d he learn to shoot?) from the beginning.

  4. Fenster says:

    I wrote I wasn’t going to see it but broke down. I belong to a loose group of guys who do a Men’s Movie Night from time to time, and this unavoidably got on the dance card.

    It’s not that I didn’t like it. I mean, if you can push yourself into suspension of disbelief you can get carried along nicely. But I do feel that the extra-movie cultural hubbub served to build the film up into something it is not. I suspect the critical community, which like the industry tilts to correct liberalism–didn’t know what to do with the n-word and the violence post-Newtown. They could either choose to despise it or sacralize it somehow, and many chose the latter. But it doesn’t warrant sacralization. It seemed to me to be essentially a B-movie. You can only deconstruct/celebrate/ironize cheapo shock stuff so long before you end up trading in your own parallel cliches.

    Sax and Farbrizio focused on Esq’s use of the word “bloated” and I agree. I am even more partial to Esq’s use of the word “slapdash”. The deconstruction genre is pretty darn hackneyed at this point. “Here is where I add some cheezy 70′s pop . . . and here is where I add the Morricone.” And the ending? Nowadays you can’t just have a conclusion; you have to have a concussion, too.

  5. Blowhard, Esq. says:

    >>I suspect the critical community, which like the industry tilts to correct liberalism–didn’t know what to do with the n-word and the violence post-Newtown.

    It’s funny to listen to the NPR interview and hear Terri Gross stutter and squirm when Tarantino gleefully admits to loving violence just days after Newtown.

    >>And the ending? Nowadays you can’t just have a conclusion; you have to have a concussion, too.

    Not to mention this ending is repetitive — it hits the same beat. He blows everyone away in the house, leaves, comes back, and blows everyone away in the house again. The second Candie signs over his wife, the movie is basically over for me.

  6. Toddy Cat says:

    “complete repudiation of any kind of “lost cause”/Gone with the Wind-style romanticism is pretty uncommon in American movies”

    Personally, I can’t think of a movie made in the last thirty years that has championed any kind of “lost cause” Southern romanticism – have I missed something? Extolling former Confederates as heroes (which some of them were) is hardly the same as extending any sort of romantic sanction to the social system, and besides, a lot of liberal film directors liked to use ex-Confederates as heroes because they had fought the evil U.S. Government. This was particularly common in the 1970′s – it extended to music as well, and even that impeccably liberal Neil Young got into the act. But that’s hardly “Gone with the Wind” style romanticism. You’d be hard pressed to find any movie made since the 1950′s that had anything remotely good to say about the Confederate cause, even in passing.

    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      You got me! I should have said ‘”lost cause’ OR Gone With the Wind-style romanticism” because, I’d agree, they’re two different things. And it isn’t so much that we’ve had tons of these movies/shows in the last 30 years (though there are some – Ang Lee’s “Ride with the Devil”, for instance, or the new AMC series “Hell on Wheels”), but rather that the big ones, like GWtW and THE SEARCHERS, have a firmer grasp on the mythic landscape than, say, MANDINGO does.

      My point, though, is that QT isn’t even allowing room for the kind of ex-Confederate heroism that anti-authority filmmakers like Peckinpah or Eastwood admired. (Though in the case of DJANGO UNCHAINED, it’d have to be proto-ex-Confederate heroism, as the movie takes place before the war). Which is why I think it’s somewhat disingenuous when people talking about this movie are like “Ho-hum, another anti-slavery movie”, because this is an apocalyptically anti-slavery movie, the likes of which haven’t been seen outside of the grindhouse.

    • Derek Brown says:

      This is entirely Sailer’s idea and I haven’t even seen the movie, but apparently Redford’s Lincoln assassination movie basically lifted its narrative from the anti-reconstruction historian who were ascendant in Redford’s youth. Apparently, Redford wasn’t up to date on the recent scholarship. Not that that is a flaw, but it apparently resulted in a Lost Cause-y type movie.

  7. Toddy Cat says:

    I’d agree, DU is hardly a ho-hum movie, but I do think that the topic has been somewhat done to death, although I actually prefer (from the entertainment standpoint) movies like DU to the usual Hollywood trope of noble, put-upon blacks rescued by Sir Gallahad white liberal. But seriously, the Civil Rights revolution is fading into history, can’t our film community come up with a new take on this whole business?

  8. Anonymous says:

    How about the riots of the 1960s? They changed America more than any events of the last 60 years and yet they’re virtually absent from popular or academic culture. Yet what could have been more dramatic than the destruction by fire and violence of America’s major cities, they’re depopulation by law-abiding people and repopulation by dysfunctional subcultures and dependent populations? Where’s the “Gone with the Wind” of America’s second Civil War?

  9. Fenster says:

    Ride with the Devil: a very fine movie few have seen.

  10. Fenster says:

    . . . on Netflix Streaming, too.

  11. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    This movie bored the shit out of me.

    • Ha! I liked the beginning enough and somewhere during the second act I drifted and became increasingly annoyed as it became clear that it was gonna drag on and on.

      • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

        I think it’s awful, to be honest. The only Tarantino film I’ve actively disliked. It makes Barry Lyndon look like a Silly Symphony. Seems like QT tried to make a movie that was more or less narratively straight forward. He should stick to the weird, clumpy constructions if this is the alternative. Many scenes don’t even feel shaped. They just go on and on. Part of the problem is that some of the most superfluous bits involve Jackson and DiCaprio. I’m sure he didn’t want to cut their scenes.

        I might have liked it more if Colonel Sanders had been made to Mandingo fight with Uncle Ben.

  12. >>I might have liked it more if Colonel Sanders had been made to Mandingo fight with Uncle Ben.

    Dammit, now I’m craving arroz con pollo.

    Seriously, though, I’d love to read a full review.

  13. Paleo Retiree says:

    I love Fenster’s idea of a “deconstruction genre.” There’s been a lot examples of that particular genre around in recent years. Cut ‘n’ paste, baby.

  14. Pingback: Notes on “Skin Game” | Uncouth Reflections

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