With Inglourious Basterds writer/director Quentin Tarantino strode a fine line between between drama and revenge fantasy in his depiction of a select group of Jewish soldiers taking on the Nazis during WWII.
With his latest, Tarantino returns to the well of his revenge fantasy, the theme he’s been stuck on for nearly an entire decade (since 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1), to push the envelope even farther with a blaxploitation western that leaves good taste in the dust. If there’s ever a film that so thoroughly argues for a director to be shackled to studio pressure it’s the inarguable trainwreck that is Django Unchained.
Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave freed by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) in need of his help to hunt down and kill the Speck brothers (James Remar, James Russo). After Django shows promise, Shultz (Waltz) agrees to train the newly freed slave in the art of bounty hunting and help retrieve Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from a ruthless plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Tarantino mew film is an unseemly botched tale. It’s a western afraid of silence. It’s a revenge fantasy that trades on slaves being whipped, Samuel L. Jackson in the most shameful role of his entire career (think about that!), forced castration, men being pulled apart by dogs, an ever-increasing body count, and Mandigo slave fighting featuring men literally beating each other to death on camera. Django Unchained in the kind of film you feel like you need to shower after seeing. The fact that it’s all presented with Tarantino’s whimsical wink and smile only makes matters worse.
I’ll give Tarantino credit for pushing boundaries and making the types of movies he wants to see. However, this one misses the mark. Badly. Never quite bad enough to be fun in it terribleness or enjoyable in its laughably uneven script, Django Unchained is simply a mess.
Foxx’s one-note performances makes him the most boring leading man Tarantino has ever delivered on-screen. Washington is completely wasted in a role that casts her as nothing more than the damsel to be saved. DiCaprio chews through so much scenery you wonder how the sets remain standing. And Waltz, by the far the highlight of the film, is stuck with a character whose actions in the final act (or, what should have been the final act in this never ending opus that continues another half-hour after the big shoot-out) are impossible to believe.
The film’s soundtrack allows for some humorous moments, but it is as much a hodgepodge of interesting ideas and missed opportunities as every other piece of the film. I did enjoy the unexpected, and completely goofy, use of Jim Croce‘s “I Got a Name” for one of the movie’s montages but other choices don’t work nearly as well.
I wouldn’t call myself a big Tarantino fan. I’ve disliked as many as he’s movies as I’ve enjoyed. It does however seem as if the director has fallen into a rut reworking the same themes over and over and attempting to raise the stakes each time. It may have worked in Inglourious Basterds but it fails spectacularly here. Die-hard Tarantino fans may enjoy this one more than I did, but (at least those I spoke to) will be forced to admit the movie is the weakest the director has put out in years.
At best Django Unchained is a racial insensitive revenge fantasy by a director try to push the audience’s buttons while celebrating a particular genre of film that deserves to be dead and buried. At worst it’s a violent, racist, crude film unworthy of a director of Tarantino’s stature.