Friday, December 28, 2012

Film Review: Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Granted, he doesn't take as long as Terrence Malick once did, but still, the nearly three and a half years since his Inglourious Basterds blew up the big screen, is an unbearable length of time for someone so enamoured with the cinephiliac workings of the mind of Quentin Tarantino, someone who finds each and every one of the director's films - even Jackie Brown, even Grindhouse - an almost religio-filmic experience, someone who waits with the most baited of breath for another goddamn masterpiece of uncomfortable hilarity and creatively over-the-top wham-bam-biggery to come our way, someone who doesn't care what all the (obviously wrong-minded, and quite misguided) naysayers out there say (more on these punks later), but who believes Tarantino to be the second coming of Sam Fuller or Nick Ray or Sergio Leone or even Stanley Motherfucking Kubrick - someone like, say, me - to have to wait.  Unbearable, I tell you.  Unbearable indeed.  But that wait is finally over, and now here we are, finding ourselves in, what one could call, a bit of a pickle.  

So, how exactly does one such as that adorably gaga guy described above, one such as me (adorable or not), even begin to give an honest critical analysis of a Quentin Tarantino film, without sounding like nothing more than a gushing fanboy or a lovesick schoolgirl, or even a preening motherfucking idiot?  Such worries have kept me from ever reviewing a Tarantino film.  Even though I was already a working film critic by the time of their respective releases, for fear of sounding like nothing more the president of the Quentin Tarantino fan club, no reviews of Kill Bill, Death Proof nor the aforementioned Inglourious Basterds, has ever seen the light of day 'round these parts.  But, I suppose, this is as good a time as any to let one out of the proverbial coop, and see what happens.  Let the bitch fly, if you will.  With that said, the creature you are about to read, though gushing as any preening, lovesick fanboy and/or schoolgirl-cum-idiot ever could be, not to mention most likely playing out as a defense of the director and his work, is meant as a highly critical look at the film, with all due disclosures, that this particular critic calls the best film of the motherfucking year.  Oh yeah, and in keeping with the tone set by good ole QT, there may be quite a bit of goddamn swearing.  Ye have been warned.

Based, obviously, though quite loosely, on the 1966 Sergio Corbucci Spaghetti Western, Django, starring Franco Nero in the title role, Django Unchained, the eighth feature film from provocateur Tarantino (seventh if one were to count the Kill Bill's as one entity) moves his story to Texas and the deep south of 1858 and 1859.  This new breed of film - a Spaghetti Southern, if you will (and no, I cannot take credit for that term) - takes the ultra-violence of its predecessor genre, and ramps it up to a typically burning hot Tarantino degree.  Tarantino's film tells the story of a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter (shades of Doc Holliday perhaps), played by Christoph Waltz, juiced up with just as much vim and vigor as he gave to his Oscar-winning portrayal of Colonel Hans Landa, aka the Jew Hunter, in Basterds, and the slave he purchases and then frees, and then partners with in order to make enough money to rescue Broomhilda, Django's wife, here played by Jamie Foxx in a performance that straddles the finest line between stoic early Eastwood-esque nonchalance and broad Tarantino-required over-the-top-ness.  Set up as a revenge movie - a genre that the director has some rather intimate knowledge with - Django is just as bloodthirsty as Kill Bill or Inglorious Basterds, and just as giddily playful at it as well, and believe me when I tell you that the director bloody damn well wants us to know it.

Now, there are more than a few Tarantino haters out there - movie goers, both of the knowledgeable and of the novice variety, who are put off by the director's violent tendencies, his supposed arrogance and/or self-indulgence, and what many, including most notably the always angry Spike Lee, have mistakenly referred to as political incorrectness.  There are also a whole bunch of these haters - several I know personally, and several who are not exactly unschooled in the art of film and film theory, mind you - who dislike the director for "stealing" from other movies.  Not to sound to much like the auteur's defense lawyer, but this is total hogwash.  Total hornswallow.   Total bullshit, if you will.  Sure, go ahead and dislike a film, or a filmmaker, hate them even, but at least have a viable argument for such dislike or hatred.  As far as the violence goes, I understand how weaker-stomached folk may turn a disgusted eye away (my lovely wife does such, but she never takes the other eye off the screen), and especially with both the inevitable penultimate and climactic blood baths that literally repaint the sets red with an orgiastic amount of blood (enough to even put someone like Peckinpah to shame), but the violence that Tarantino uses is like an artist painting with a super artificial palette.  In fact, the whole idea of cinema is based on the ultimate artificiality.   Outside of things like Cinéma vérité, and, of course, documentaries, what we are watching on whatever screen we happen to be watching, is a fantasy - and it is this fantasy on which Tarantino erects his own insular universe.

Granted, this universe is filled to the veritable gills with cinematic references - many of which go over the head of those non-cinephiliac filmgoers - but to say the auteur steals is something else.  Okay, okay, Tarantino himself has been quoted, half tongue-in-cheekly, saying basically the same thing, but what Tarantino steals is nothing more than what other modern day directors - everyone from Spielberg to Lynch to Scorsese, Fincher and both the Anderson's - are doing with every film.  The only difference is, Tarantino makes no bones about it.  Every great director is influenced by those before them, but when someone like Tarantino puts it out there so blatantly, it makes some cinema purists cringe.  Of course, if someone is not in on the joke, then they too, are off put.  Those who do not notice the obvious references to Leone or Peckinpah or Sammy Fuller, will just never get it.  Those who hear that Waltz's horse is named Fritz, and do not automatically think of Fritz Lang, will never get it.  Those who see the screen filled with the word Mississippi, and do not see the connection with both Gone with the Wind and the films of Jean-Luc Godard, will never get it.  Those who wonder why the soundtrack has both Tupac and Jim Croce on it, will never get it.  Those who are not thrilled by that meta moment midway through when Foxx's Django is sidled up on by the original article, Franco Nero, in one of the best played cameos in the film, and the in-joke shared between them, will never get it.  The artificial universe created by Tarantino in each and every one of his films (the director even goes so far as to claim that Django and his wife, played wispfully by Kerry Washington, are the great great grandparents of seventies iconic streetwise character, Shaft) may not be for everyone, but for those who get it, those for whom said universe was created, it is the blastiest of blasts.

As for that other argument - the one that says the constant use of a so-called N-word (and this may be a record amount of times spoken) is racist - it simply holds no water.  It is an argument that is brought forth by the same type of people - angry, fed-up blacks and guilty-feeling liberal whites alike - who want this same dreaded word erased from the likes of Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom's Cabin.  This is history people.  Granted, it is a terrible, ugly history, and we as a nation should feel ashamed such a history was perpetrated on an entire race like it was, but it is still history.  In 1850's Mississippi, this word was most likely used quite a bit, and mostly unashamedly, and to remove it from such a story would just be ridiculous.  Of course, some claim it is taken overboard here, and yes, Tarantino does tend to take pretty much everything overboard in his films, but again, this is a fantasy, and should therefore be looked upon as one.  An artificial construct.  A thousand armed beast.  A goddamn movie.  But enough of all this Tarantino-defending.  There are just those who get it, and those who do not.  Instead, let us concentrate less on explaining to the unfortunate masses, why they should like, and enjoy, the work of Tarantino, and more on preaching to the so-called choir.  Well, that, and talking a bit about the film.  Of course, that latter part is a bit difficult, since too much talk will give away all the film's secrets, and all the film's surprises - and there are quite a few in the casting alone.  Then again, Jonas Mekas once said, "It is not my business to tell you what it's about. My business is to get excited about it, to bring it to your attention. I am a raving maniac of the cinema."  Well damn, I can do that.

Seriously though, this film is indeed brutal and bloody, biting and badass.  It is most certainly a film that does more than its share of button-pushing, and it is a film that will most likely be hated by as many people as love it, but it is also a film that, once one removes the stick from one's ass, can be a gorgeously shot piece of pop cinema fetish fantasy, that never once wavers in its onslaught of both its agonizing brutality and shockingly gleeful irresponsibility.  From Foxx's demanding performance as a man caught between two worlds (there is one moment of utterly harrowing wrongfulness, where Django must watch as an innocent man dies, by almost his own hand, in order to save his wife, that gives the character a terrifying depth) to Waltz's show-stealing turn as the wickedly good mirror image of his Jew Hunter role (it is funny to note that the most racially sensitive character in the film is German, and is played by the same man who made us hate/love the quite evil-minded Col. Landa just a few years back) to Leonardo DiCaprio's take on the maniacally depraved, yet oh so the southern gentleman, Calvin J. Candie (a role that the usually just meh actor, manages to devour and make his own sick and twisted amalgamation), to Sam Jackson's hybrid of Stepin Fetchit and Jules Winnfield (a character that seems to be parodying the white-washed southern house nigger of Gone with the Wind), Tarantino's film is a motherfucking blast to watch.  And at 165 minutes, still does not seem long enough.  Of course, I am far from the right person to ask to criticize such a film (remember, gushing schoolgirl and all), but for what it is worth (and remember, I even liked Four Rooms), I give it as many thumbs up as I can, and consider it the logical extension of the director who created Inglourious Basterds lo those aforementioned three and a half years ago.

6 comments:

Kevyn Knox said...

Hello Me. I just thought I would stop in and say hiya. No one else ever seems to come by, so I thought I would make you/me feel better by leaving a comment. Oh, and by the by, fun review. Keep up the good work. How's that?

Michaël Parent said...

Hi Kevyn!

I've read your review and was planning on commenting but I've been ridicolously sick lately...
I was one of the few lucky who saw the Premiere up here in QC. I love the whole damn thing like I love every film QT has been making since Reservoir Dogs.
However, it is more of a fun - Quentin Tarantino fun - like Kill Bill than a great fun like Pulp Fiction or Inglourious Basterds if you ask me. Still, Django is my No.1 film for 2012 so far.
Excellent, review by the way and like QT only you can make those like this!
Your reader.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx for the accolades M. Parent. Hope you feel better, and Happy New Year's.

Courtney said...

I too am a die-hard Tarantino fan, and I was rooting for 2010's Inglourious Basterds to take home the Oscar (sadly, no). But, I found myself a little disappointed in Django. Tremendous acting, incredible score, horrifying plot, but it didn't captivate me the same way Basterds did (like that David Bowie Cat People sequence with Melanie Laurent...brilliant).

My only real complaint with Django was the editing, or lack thereof. I felt that the flow would have been more precise if a few scenes were shortened or chopped out...it tended to drag, unlike his previous films. I know his editor died prior to filming Django, and it was noticeable. Great review!

You'll appreciate this: http://t.co/KmeteE3O

Anonymous said...

I don't see any crux in Tarantino movies.. I don't know why you guys are all gaga about him..

http://www.pophap.com/why-quentin-tarantino-movies-condemned/

I think this review is more or less right about himm..

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