Quentin Tarantino has created, and works exclusively in, his own cinematic genre. He’s mastered the gritty, violent and dark-humored realm with movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds,” but he fails to do so in his latest offering “Django Unchained.”
“Django Unchained” isn’t the movie I had hoped it would be, yet it provides everything I expect from a Tarantino film. There’s plenty of over-the-top violence, wry wit, and colorful characters in the movie to fill the bill, (not as many as “Kill Bill”) but it doesn’t weave all the elements together tightly enough.
The movie begins with Django (Jamie Foxx) on a forced march to Texas in a chain-gang with other slaves. By nightfall, the barbaric procession is come upon by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) — a travelling dentist/bounty hunter looking for Django. Schultz needs Django to identify the objects of his next bounty, the Brittle brothers, and after some steely negotiations, procures Django’s freedom.
They agree upon a partnership that will come to fruition when they find and free Django’s wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). This is the entirety of the plot.
“Django Unchained” is a rescue/revenge movie that needs no other explanation or excuse to exist.
I think Tarantino would agree because he doesn’t attempt to explore any other themes, nor does he get mired in the complexities of character development. Most characters aren’t alive long enough to be thoroughly examined and the ones who do survive for most of the picture are either strictly evil or blatantly righteous.
The film isn’t without humor though. I couldn’t help but laugh at the rabble of would-be Klansmen griping about the inability to see through their homemade hoods and bickering like oafish bureaucrats over the sad sacks.
The violence portrayed in the film is highly stylized in accordance with Tarantino’s previous works, but the subject matter of slavery makes some of the brutality bite at the nerves pretty hard. This visceral ugliness is nothing compared to the dripping villainy of slave-owner Calvin Candie and his house slave Stephen.
Samuel Jackson courageously plays the sycophantic Stephen to perfection, and thusly embodies the most wretched character Tarantino has ever come up with.
Django is surprisingly handy with the steel and stellar on a steed for a slave who probably didn’t ever get to ride or shoot before, but who cares? It’s his show.
That’s one of the main reasons that I love Tarantino films. He doesn’t make excuses or rationalizations for his creative choices, he just follows his instincts.
As I watched Django and Dr. Schultz collecting bodies for bounties while Jim Croce sings “I Got a Name,” I realized that Tarantino has got to be the best director at matching music to mood and tempo. His eclectic musical choices always surprise and rarely disappoint.
Tarantino makes movies that he wants to see and to hell with anything else. He needs no more justification than his own sensibilities, and that is what makes his work honest and authentic.
“Django Unchained” is true to Tarantino, but, truly, isn’t Tarantino’s best. If you like him then you’ll like the film, but I’ll bet you come out of the theater saying that you liked (insert favorite Tarantino movie) better.