Dir: Quentin Tarantino, 2013
In 1858, the slave Django is freed by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz so that he may assist the doctor in the capture of the Brittle brothers, whom only Django can point out. In return, Django solicits Schultz to aid him in rescuing his wife Broomhilda from the clutches of the evil Calvin Candie.
With Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino attempts to repaint both the Western and its Spaghetti counterpart, showing slavery with less Gone with the Wind and more Mandingo. Tarantino has never been one to tread lightly on weighty topics and holds no punches in Django, showing slaves be subjected to hot boxes, vicious dogs and sadistic Mandingo fighting. However, where Tarantino succeeds with precision he fails in terms of narrative – Django is essentially a less-seductive Kill Bill.
Django is far too long for the content it possesses. Several key factors are overlooked while Tarantino amplifies his quirk with multiple endings and prolonged dialogue sequences. As far as the vast, shrouding controversy toward Django goes, the film is not racist (despite Tarantino’s uncouth obsession with the ‘n’ word) though it could easily be argued that it is sexist.
Never before has a Tarantino film gone through such extreme cast changes and the result in the case of Django is a mish-mash of exaggerated performances with actors even doubling up on roles. Jamie Foxx’s Django is likeable but unmemorable due to Foxx taking his role too seriously, as if fishing for awards season. Characters such as lead antagonist Calvin Candie and damsel-in-distress Broomhilda are utterly one-dimensional and barren. Candie is neither charming nor menacing and yet so much of the film hinges on his character whereas Broomhilda is a walking, (rarely) talking plot point – we know Django loves his wife but apart from her efficiency in becoming a hostage, we don’t know why. Christoph Waltz is one of the few saving graces of the film but is regrettably revising his exact same character as in Inglorious Basterds while Samuel L. Jackson’s energetic performance is butchered by his chronic “Sambo” stereotype, which loses appeal almost instantly.
Tarantino is a fantastic writer but his eccentricity and allergy to formula has always threatened to comprise his oeuvre, which is why his directing days could (or at least should) be over. Django is Tarantino at his most self-indulgent since Death Proof but on the whole, lacks the same concentration. This self-indulgence is especially evident in the last thirty minutes where the plot goes sideways and Tarantino’s worst cameo yet is horrifically introduced to the world of film.
Tarantino’s vies for gratuity result in the revered director shooting himself in the foot. Numerous exceptional scenes that demonstrate the powerful potential of Django are fiercely amputated because Tarantino favours (in this case, ever-thinning) suspense over intensity, refusing to let the latter ride out. What Tarantino does excel in blissfully is his fusion of hip-hop music into the Western genre, many of the included songs being superior to the scenes they feature in.
Unfortunately, Tarantino’s partner-in-dialogue Roger Avary is long gone and now the dearly departed Sally Menke is no longer present to tug Tarantino’s leash when his passion spirals into mania. Therefore the messy, senseless Django is actually just Tarantino Unchained.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆