Django Unchained

July 16th, 2013

Yes, yes, not very topical, I know, but with time at a premium I only just got around to tackling the well nigh 3 hours of this – why the hell must everything be so ass-numblingly long these days?

I find Tarantino a rather frustrating film-maker, to say the least. Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction – stunning work. The fusion of free-wheeling banality with explosive violence and narrative inventiveness made a deep impression on me when they appeared.  But since then, I’ve found it hard to like what he’s produced.  Inglorious Basterds seemed mostly a self-indulgent shambles, foundering under the weight of its own self-referential cleverness.

Django is way, way better, for me, though it doesn’t get near the heights of his early work.  It’s over-long, to my mind, but there’s a plot, some great scenes and some strong performances.  It’s an homage to the spaghetti western, I guess, with Django recast as an escaped slave searching for vengeance and his wife in the pre-civil war South.  The worst excesses of crazy captions, odd sound effects and bizarre digressions have been hauled in – Tarantino still has some peculiar habits of focusing on weird details in the editing that I find distracting, but the film felt pretty much on point, one could even call it a sequence of scenes together creating a story, and for two hours it kicked along and I really enjoyed it.  But then he did somewhat the same thing he’d done in Inglorious Basterds – though admittedly a lot further in – by mounting a strange, very intricate and long-winded denouement three quarters of the way through in which the most interesting characters are killed.  There’s certainly a degree to which that’s a challenging, shocking, interesting, perhaps even a realistic narrative choice.  But there’s a larger degree to which it leaves your film feeling a little uninteresting for the not insignificant amount of time you’ve got left.

Cristoph Waltz totally steals the show, again, as Django’s Bounty Hunting Dentist Mentor, Leonardo Di Caprio I thought was great as the sadistic plantation owner and no one does a Samuel L Jackson impression like Samuel L Jackson.  Jamie Fox was given a thankless role as Django, mind you, oddly a bystander in his own film.  Waltz must have had half the lines and Di Caprio half the rest with Jackson taking most of the leftovers.  For a surprising amount of time, the eponymous Django was just a guy in the room.  Now Clint Eastwood can boss a western from that position, but a true spaghetti western – a Sergio Leone film, say, is all about the silence, and a Tarantino film is all about the talk.  Waltz did all the talking and hence made all the impact, for large stretches Fox was just a cutaway.  Kerry Washington had an even more thankless task as Django’s wife.  She barely registered, a plot device if ever there was one, existing in order to be hurt and humiliated and therefore demonstrate how villainous her abusers were.  We were nominally watching a film about their journey to freedom but most of what we got was an amusing character study of Waltz and a fencing-match between him and DiCaprio.  Little real sense emerged of either Django or his wife as characters, let alone of the relationship that was supposedly the engine of the plot, so when they were left to carry the film themselves, there wasn’t much left to carry.  It felt like we were given a strong two hours, but were left in the last act with a standoff between the hero’s sidekick and the villain’s henchmen.

But, hey, I’d far rather that than watch Inglorious Basterds again…

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on July 16th, 2013.

38 comments so far

  • Cucumber on Speed says:

    Wouldn’t it be fkng-ace if Tarantino directed a “Red Country” movie rendition one day?

  • Deb E says:

    A nice run down. Been a while since I saw it, but I recall really enjoying the first 2/3 or so of the film and finding the last a bit empty. I’m thinking you may have just explained why…

  • katzeee says:

    I cannot help but note that – hopefully – this line of thoughts will prevent the Bloody Nine from having an untimely death…;)

  • Aaron says:

    I honestly thought Di Caprio stole the show he was so villainous. Apparently the scene were he smashes the skull and cuts his hand he actually cut him self and just kept acting on. He had to get stitches afterword.

    Its defiantly not as good as his early films but it will keeps me coming back for his next film.

  • Timo says:

    Ah, how I find it strange that you see through the shallow and pretentious facade of perhaps the most overrated movie ever made, Inglourious Basterds… but still fail at appreciating the astonishing multilayered ingeniousness of Q’s most cleverly written masterpiece, Jackie Brown.

    I think that was the big turning point. He made an actual film noir classic… but then, instead of setting the bar even higher, he started to fool around with geeky themes just because he can.

  • Frank Fitz says:

    He’s a strange boy, Tarantino. He tries too hard to be ‘Tarantino’ these days. He’s almost became a parody of himself. Which, in truth, is a sad, sad shame.

    I agree, Django was better than Basterds, and probably the best film he’s made for a while, but still…

    He needs to stop trying so damn hard to be cool. Forcing it won’t make it so.

  • Po says:

    What did you think of Kill Bill?

  • Mark Stay says:

    Tarantino writes great scenes, but doesn’t seem to know when to stop stringing them together.

  • weedypants says:

    A little harsh, Joe. The film is a fantasy about a little piece of revenge we wish the slaves could have had. It has a strong message. It’s hilarious. It makes us care and although Django isn’t all that talky, we care about him.

    Sooo much better than most mainstream cinema these days – snippet dialogue and frenetic action because otherwise the dumb audience might get bored**. But even if the rest of the mainstream weren’t trash, Django would have looked impressive.

    ** Thank god for the art house cinema down the road – good films are still being made outside Hollywood.

  • Slainegwalchmai says:

    I found the movie all too predictable from start to finish and more or less an exercise in self indulgence by Tarantino. Waltz is always easy to watch but the dialogue was snippy and over-reliant on vocabulary and flourish. Tarantino himself should realise that every time he cameos he simply makes a prize tit of himself; jaw-droppingly bad as per and the accent(was that Australian?) gets him twat of the month for me. The service station ketchup spraying up the walls was also a particular low. Crap.

  • James says:

    I think Django was a thankless role, that if anything, was underplayed. For some mad reason.

    With Waltz, Jackson and Di Caprio on top form, Jamie Fox got eaten alive out there.

    For me if a film’s called Django Unchained, Django had better well be the most interesting character. Otherwise, as here, when everyone else dies, the film goes straight to snooze mode.

    That said, Samuel L Jackson was freaking hilarious.

  • Blayzon says:

    Red Country would be awesome as a Tarantino movie. In my mind the best book Joe has written and I’m a fan of all the books.

    Also re Django, what was with the Australian bounty hunters. I’m no anthropologist but I’m pretty sure the Aussie accent was proberly quite English at the time (Australia having only existed as a colony 80 odd years). Lamest part of the movie for sure.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Timo, Po,
    Jackie Brown I just found underwhelming, a bit flat after the pyrotechnics of Pulp Fiction. Kill Bill, meh. That was when the real self-indulgence began.

    I think the problem for me with the post Pulp Fiction stuff is it doesn’t feel authentic, doesn’t feel honest. I felt a spark of originality, of genius in those first two films. Since then it’s been a lot of slapping lots of influences together to do his take on X, Y, or Z. Django is his most successful since Pulp Fiction, I think, but I don’t think you could ever call it a great western, it’s too knowing, almost awkwardly self-aware, everything with a cocked eyebrow and a tongue-in-cheek. It has none of the heart of Sergio Leone’s stuff, say.

    Got to agree with James, I found it hard to care about Django, he just made no impression on me. A thin part and subdued performance buried amidst the explosive hamminess of some of the others.

  • Adam A. says:

    “Samuel L Jackson impression like Samuel L Jackson.”

    I know, right! Every time I see him I’m all like, “Wow! He nailed it!”

  • James says:

    The thing about Kill Bill was that there was one absolutely awesome 2 hour film to be had out of it.

    Unfortunately it was turned into 2 films full of flab and filler.

    Still can’t decide which out of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs was better though.

    20 damn years later….

  • Chad says:

    weedypants gets it. Any Tarantino movie is better than most of what’s out there. The second half of Kill Bill is great and the first half is really entertaining.

    If you don’t like Tarantino movies, you don’t like movies.

    Finally, to all reading – and you Joe, and you — please remember that Joe really liked Avatar. All of his movies reviews are forevermore tainted by this.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Oh, look, Tarantino’s got that spark of genius, no doubt, but that’s what makes the incoherent self-indulgence, self-conscious cleverness, and all round lightweight quality of his oeuvre since Pulp Fiction so frustrating for me. ‘Better than most of what’s out there’ is a disappointing judgement on the later work of one of the most promising film makers to appear in the last thirty years or so. He’s come nowhere near fulfilling that promise for me, he’s just dabbled with bits and pieces of other people’s films.

    As for Avatar, an astonishing technical achievement offering an as yet unmatched fusion of design, effects and innovation. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it hit what it aimed at. My opinion, of course, but, you know, that’s what you’re going to get on my blog…

  • ColinJ says:

    Timo: I couldn’t agree more.

    I think that if JACKIE BROWN had been as a big a hit as PULP FICTION we would be seeing a very different Tarantino today.

    I don’t think he would have regressed so far back into his fanboy obsessions.

  • Lloyd says:

    “Now Clint Eastwood can boss a western from that position, but a true spaghetti western – a Sergio Leone film, say, is all about the silence, and a Tarantino film is all about the talk.”

    Very good point.

  • Chris says:

    I mostly remember Jackie Brown because I went on a first date to it and both of us were too shy to walk out because we didn’t realise the other was as horrifically bored as we were. Dreadful. (I also blame Tarantino for spoiling the mood so that I didn’t get laid).

    I’m in the Joe camp on this – to put a Fantasy analogy on it, I think of Raymond Feist. Stunning debut writing an all-time classic of the genre, some terrific follow-up, and then by Mistress of the Empire and Kings Buccaneer, unmitigated regurgitated crap.

    I’ve been applying the same logic to Tarantino – now when he makes a film I see it exists, note this with vague interest, and watch something else.

  • Ben says:

    I’m with Mark Stay up above. Tarantino can write a great scene.

    His movies typically fall short for me, but the odd thing is, he usually has 2-3 scenes in his films that are among the best you’ll see that year.

    To me, he’s the Stephen King of movie makers.

  • James says:

    Almost with you on that Chris.

    But I can find stuff in later Tarantino to enjoy, even though he often is a bad parody of himself.

    Later Feist though is just unmitigated horseshit from start to finish.

    Magician’s End? Twenty years too bloody late.

  • Markz says:

    Yep, Tarantino never lived up to his earlier promise. James I agree with you about Feist. I really think he never lived up to the promise of those first three books. Even looking at old characters while reading Magicians End I thought to myself; if these people did not have names at the end of the bits of dialogue I would have no way as to distinguishing who anyone was.

  • James says:

    In a slightly bonkers way it kind of reminded me of the last episode of Merlin, where characters kept dying every 5 mins because it was the last of a series.

    Even though they’d repeatedly survived all kinds of worse experiences in the past – bloody annoying writing.

    Also – rant of the day, just read a new piece of grimdark because it was el cheapo on the Kindle. It was an entertaining enough read.

    But the main characters were a battle weary rock hard Northman with a dark past, a cynical mouthy cripple and a flashy spoiled young man who discovered he wasn’t half as wonderful as he thought he was.

    The words ‘rip’ and ‘off’ did dance merrily through my skull at that point.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all…

  • James says:

    It is, but I’d rather be flattered with a chest stuffed full of the finest jewels in the land and a statue erected in my honour.

    But perhaps the Lord of Grimdark is above such things….

  • Chad says:

    I can’t bust balls like Brent Weeks does. I obviously treasure, TREASURE, your opinions Joe. But — ‘Better than most of what’s out there’ is a disappointing judgement on the later work of one of the most promising film makers to appear in the last thirty years or so — basically means that you can’t enjoy Tarantino because he could be so much better. Or, you enjoy him, but not a lot.

    Yeah, Django’s not as good as Pulp Fiction, nothing’s going to be as good as Pulp Fiction. But Tarantino’s work is good, even if he doesn’t measure up to his prior work, or someone’s notion of his potential. I would bet that you’ll find that someday people will say the same thing about you — not me a course — and through no fault of your own, because the work is top shelf. It’s just that time makes us venerate things. The new can’t match up to the old wonderful whatever it was.

    Then again, I could be wrong.

  • Bill says:

    ” but a true spaghetti western – a Sergio Leone film, say, is all about the silence,”

    The Great Silence, even…

    I also thought it was missing the starkness that is present in a lot of spaghetti westerns. Something that always struck me about the genre is how strangely apocalyptic it felt at times. The desolate landscapes, the isolated pockets of civilization, roving gangs of predatory bandits. Almost like they’re some kind of post-Civil War version of The Road Warrior.

    I’d have to go with pretty good, but not great with the movie overall. I had my hopes up through the first half but the second just dragged on and on, with the last act in particular being pretty clumsily structured. I see what Tarantino was going for with Django vs. Stephen, the freed slave vs. the slave whose made the system work for him at the cost of other slaves’ suffering, but he really could have set it up better. I did like the thoroughly twisted relationship between Candie and Stephen. Stephen clearly manipulating Candie but at the same time seems to feel some genuine affection for him. Hell, the movie even hints that Stephen was the one who raised Candie.

  • SwindonNick says:

    I thought the first 20 mins of IB was astonishing – the menace and sub-text to the thing, but the rest was a bit crap.
    But I enjoyed Django if Fox was fairly lightweight it was more than compensated by another astonishing performance from Waltz…..

  • AntMac says:

    The problem that has blighted poor Tarantinos’ life ( or the second problem, after all he went through all his childhood named Quentin Jerome, the poor sad barstard, it must have been a wasteland ) is all the hipsters screamed his name from the mountains, and declared the second coming, merely because he made an ultra violent reference manual of a first movie.

    What chance did he have of restraining himself?. Laud someone for excess, then act surprised when he gets excessive?. It was the hipsters who broke him, and turned him into a madman pumped full of self opinion and boundless conceit.

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Hipsters just get blamed for everything these days, don’t they? Global warming? Civil War in Egypt? The fall of Rome? But I’m still not sure I ever met one. In the end an artist has to be responsible for their own output.

    It was kind of incredible that with that brilliant first scene and Waltz’ amazing performance, the rest of Inglorious Basterds could be as much of a shambles as it was. But it was.

    Naturally what you’ve seen someone do before influences your opinion of what you see them do now. I think I’m perfectly capable of enjoying a film of his if he made a great film again. Django was a big step in the right direction, enjoyable for two hours, but big flaws, and went out on a low note. As for me, there are people who say I’ve lost it with every book I release, comes with the territory.

  • markt says:

    Frankly, I don’t see Inglorious Basterds like that at all and think it’s just fine, although I’m not a Tarantino-“fan”….

  • Dingus says:

    I saw Basterds shortly after seeing Valkyrie. I thought Valkyrie was good, but was spoilt by the fact that, from the opening scene,you damn well knew how it was going to end. Although you didn’t realize it until the end, I found it very refreshing that Inglorious Basterds didn’t have that problem…

  • Morgan says:

    Southern slave-owners are the new zombie/nazi of movies. The protags can slay the endless waves of evil baddies with gratifying gore filled carnage which is frankly awesome.

    “Django” is Tarantino’s only elevated film imo. Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs seem overly cute and suffer form try-hard syndrome. Inglorious Bastards was certainly well acted and directed, but it just seemed to miss a certain component that made it memorable for me.

    Django is a vigilante movie for minorities in America, and the movie took an incredibly creative way to approach slavery for a contemporary audience. The Mandango fighting (fiction) was just a brilliant touch. It sounds like the film was too Americana and long for your liking which I understand.

  • Count Spatula says:

    Damn, need to get round to seeing this film.

    I ADORE Tarantino’s movies – Reservoir Dogs is my favourite, but I did very much enjoy Inglourious Basterds. I haven’t yet seen Django, but now I’ll have to give it a butchers at the weekend.

    Actually, Joe, the first thought I got when reading your books was “Tarantino”, especially Best Served Cold (mainly because of the similarities between that and Kill Bill). I’m sure you hear it a lot, but it’s definitely a good thing!

  • JonathanL says:

    I was a huge Tarantino fan as I passed from teenagerdom to young adulthood, and Kill Bill Volume I was theheight of that phase. Ten years later I love Pulp Fiction and really like Jackie Brown and Kill Bill (both parts), with Res Dogs and now Django behind it.

    You’re dead on about Django. Foxx does what he can, but he’s not much of a character; he’s mostly the physical manifestation of The Plot, and that whole last section lacked the verve of the partnership he had with Waltz.

    Also, Waltz is amazing. And of course DiCaprio killed it. Who doesn’t go around saying “white cake” all day after seeing this film?

  • ynnarin says:

    DiCaprio had to kill the slave, cause he had to demonstrate power and law as well to his new buisnessrelationship with waltz/django…i don´t know, it made no sense that waltz (harsh killer too) threw away his life and killed dicaprio, who was only offering his hand, after he gave them the women…very dumb scene like many others in the movie. The brilliant acting from DiCaprio and Waltz would ve deserved a better writing.

    All in all Django was little to weepy and pale 😉

    /sry for my bad english

  • MessiahX says:

    I’m actually a bit surprised that you don’t care for Kill Bill. I got a HUGE Kill Bill vibe off Best Served Cold. Not to say it’s a ripoff or even a tribute, but the premise was so similar, I actually found myself comparing them at times. Clearly, BSC is the better story, with more interesting characters and less self-indulgent dickwaving but still – a badass female killer betrayed by her employer and his team of accomplices, left for dead only to reappear with the single unwavering goal of vengeance. The way that she sticks to that mission despite regrets along the way culminating in a bittersweet “was it all worth it?” kind of ending. It’s hard not to draw parallels. That said, I’ll still take BSC over Kill Bill any day, I was just a bit shocked it didn’t click with you

Add Your Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *