Wednesday, 6 February 2013
'Django Unchained' review:
Been a while, etc. Saw this a few weeks ago, when it was released in the UK, and even recorded a podcast about it - which subscribers to the old Splendor Cinema iTunes feed may well have already listened to - but a combination of work, holiday and illness kept me from posting a written appraisal. See below:
There is a good film buried somewhere within the three hours of Quentin Tarantino's typically self-satisfied western. Indeed, the first hour, which sees Jamie Foxx's slave Django pressed into the service of the ever-watchable Christoph Waltz's eccentric German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, moves along at a good clip and is every bit as stylish, cine-literate and entertainingly violent as the filmmaker's acolytes would have you believe. The duo have a pleasing on-screen chemistry and their various (slightly wacky) escapades - though episodic and mostly inconsequential - are fun. So much so that I would quite happily trade the subsequent two hours of film for four half-hour TV episodes, in which these unlikely partners round up a new bunch of low-lifes each week against a Spaghetti Western backdrop. That would be better than 'Django Unchained' - the bloated and scattershot film from an ego-maniacal director, seemingly operating without checks on his power. Case in point: his truly risible cameo as an Australian people trafficker. Though the less said about that the better.
One of the appealing things about the first third of 'Django' is that, much like the enjoyably disposable 'Inglourious Basterds' before it, there is an overriding edge of sillyness and even moments of satire - both best exemplified by an amusing (if disposable) KKK skit - that help to undercut the unrelenting nastiness of Tarantino's characters and apparent world-view. In other words, it's easier to sit back and laugh at people's skulls being staved in when the overall piece is irreverent and daft, as opposed to when these actions are supposed to be cool. That last word, "cool", is key in terms of my relationship with Tarantino. The more desperately and self-consciously he seems to be trying to sell cool, to create cool characters and write cool dialogue, the more tragic and ultimately disturbing I find his films to be. The ever-present themes of Old Testament justice and revenge are difficult for me to stomach when taken seriously. Being asked to see them as cool is, to my mind, unpalatable.
And so we come to the latter stages of the film, in which Django fights violence and intolerance with the same and [SPOILER] wins. Leonardo DiCaprio's energetic and typically intense performance as the villain goes some way to offsetting the tedium of the second half but po-faced revenge fantasy blood-lust and a politically dubious finale - in which black collaboration with slavery essentially becomes the main villain of the piece, via Samuel L. Jackson's Stephen - leave a sour taste well before the credits roll and the horses dance. Throw in some baffling musical choices and the director's aforementioned cameo and 'Django' stops being irreverent fun and becomes, at best, sloppy and boring and, at worst, pretty hateful. It certainly wants a good edit.