Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Django Unchained (2012)

By and large I have enjoyed watching most of Quentin Tarantino's films, although "Four Rooms" was an unmitigated disaster and I have never been able to quite warm to "Jackie Brown" -- one of his fans' favourites. Otherwise there is much to like in the works of this cinema-literate director, although I wish he would curb his enthusiasm to act as well. His role-playing turns are invariably embarrassing and he should stick to what he does best.

I write 'does best' with some provisos in examing his eighth movie. There is no doubt that the man has many ideas when writing his screenplays and is not content if he is forced to omit anything, whether or not these inclusions are worthy. The result can be, as is the case with this film, an overlong and over-indulgent orgy of film violence and episodic action. Tarantino needs to understand the art of editing; his longtime editor Sally Menke died not long ago and somehow this latest film seems unpolished and unpaced. Still there is a great deal to like if the viewer is content to sit through nearly three hours of Quentinisms.

Set in a somewhat mythical South two years before the start of the Civil War, Jamie Foxx plays the title role of a rebellious slave, bought (by gunfire of course) and then freed by Christoph Waltz's dentist-turned-bounty hunter. The latter needs his help in identifying his latest quarry and subsequently trains him and takes him along on his bloody adventures. One must admit that Waltz is perhaps the director's greatest find and Tarantino's dialogue rolls smoothly from his silver tongue; in fact the heart and soul of the movie die with him when he is eventually dispatched. While Foxx does an adequate job as the man with a quest -- to be reunited with his dear wife (the German-speaking Broomhilda von Shaft: another of QT's in-jokes) -- there is no way that he could carry the film without Waltz's support; to my mind, he never quite dominates the action. I understand that Will Smith was originally sought for the so-called lead, but soon departed when he could see that his would be an overshadowed character. There are also meaty parts for Leonardo DiCaprio, playing against type as the cruel master of the Candieland plantation, home of Mandingo fighting, and for Samuel L. Jackson parodying false subservience as his Uncle Tomish 'house nigger. (I would not like to count the number of times that QT liberally includes his favourite N-word).

Then there are the countless small roles and unexpected cameos that are among Tarantino's trademarks: Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, and dozens more including unfortunately QT himself. Some are included like Russ Tamlyn playing 'Son of a Gunfighter' (one of his more obscure roles) and Amber Tamlyn playing 'Daughter of Son of a Gunfighter' solely as more wink-wink, nudge-nudge for the film buffs. The attempts at leavening the violence with humour are rather hit-and-miss, ranging from dressing Foxx up as Little Lord Fauntleroy when he is given leave to choose his first suit of clothes, through a prolonged and unfunny attack by the local Ku Klux Klan where they spend the time complaining about the poorly-cut eyeholes in their flour sack masks. Similarly the director's choice of music is so eclectic, that one bristles at hearing hip-hop riffs in this South that never was. Only the brief appearance of Franco Nero, the original and more charismatic Django from the spaghetti westerns, is really apt.

Of course Quarantino (this is obviously a Freudian slip on my part for 'Tarantino') does have a great deal to say about this shameful period in America's past, an interesting counterpoint to the more cerebral "Lincoln" currently on release, and he certainly says it at length. However he does tend to diminish man's inhumanity to man by using it as an excuse for mindless violence and spurting blood. Gore fans will have a ball! Everyone else can pick and choose between the 'good' bits and the bits that could easily have been edited out to leave a more cohesive film.
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