Well folks, it looks like once again Tarantino gets away with being a pretentious, crass, and self-absorbed to the point of parody troll-monger with a god-complex. He is fully aware of his considerable abilities as a filmmaker (having never made a single dud), and his supreme arrogance eventually becomes endearing as he continues to make good on every one of his boasts. The spaghetti western has always been a key inspiration for Tarantino’s films, not just in style but in theme as well, and now that he has finally made his spaghetti western with Django Unchained, the entirety of his flaws and strengths are laid bare on celluloid (he hates digital). That is why Django Unchained will not convert any non-Tarantino believers. Unfortunately that is also why this film fails to surpass Inglourious Bastards, since while it is a blast to watch him play with his toy cowboys and indi…slaves, the subject matter and setting are simply too appropriate for him. Now don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times in Django Unchained where I thought, “There’s no way he going to do that…..yep, he did. He definitely just showed that.” But never did I get that “Holy Sh*t!” feeling I got when Hitler’s face was ripped apart with automatic weapons. In fact, it wasn’t until 2/3 through the movie that I got a scene which could go toe-to-toe with any of Tarantino’s other famous scenes. But oh, what a scene it was, involving Leonardo DiCaprio and a skull. Horrific edge-of-your-seat perfection.
Speaking of Leonardo DiCaprio, let me just say that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker has met its match. Playing a sadistic and impeccably dressed slave owner named Calvin Candy in desperate need of a dentist, DiCaprio dominates every scene he’s in. Owner of the infamous plantation nicknamed “Candyland”, he embodies Tarantino’s refusal to empathize with slave owners by portraying them as only products of a different time. If he isn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor…I was about to say there’s no justice in the Academy but I suppose that would be redundant. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz are both great and have excellent and unexpected chemistry together. The soundtrack is spectacular across the board, which is to be expected from a Tarantino film. Rick Ross’ 100 Black Coffins is phenomenal and Tarantino sprinkles some Ennio Morricone (Sergio Leone-collaborator) throughout. One flashback scene in particular featuring Freedom by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton stood out to me as a perfect marrying of sound and image.
Tarantino has a knack for bloodshed, and too often his more exploitative tendencies distract from his moral outlook. He was recently quoted saying how much despised John Ford for his racist portrayal of Indians, and with that in mind Django Unchained becomes an interesting reversal of the western genre. In most westerns the theme is progress with the conflict being the harshness of an unlawful landscape. From Django’s viewpoint, he is fighting right alongside Eastwood and Wayne as he “shoots white folk” in a land that wants to kill and enslave his people. Tarantino’s obsession with revenge makes me wonder if it’s simply the result of his love of pulp cinema, or a deep-seated desire for justice. I recently watched an interview featuring a bunch of big-name directors (Tarantino, Ang Lee, Tom Hooper, Ben Affleck…) and when Tarantino mentioned he might be quitting the movie-making business their faces all fell in unison. As they literally begged him to reconsider it hit me just how valuable an asset Tarantino is to American cinema. All these renowned directors making powerful dramas and thrillers were suddenly all Tarantino fanboys, geeking out about his work. Not bad for a guy discovered while working at a video store in LA. (B)
PS: That’s actually DiCaprio’s blood on his hand when he hits the table.
PPS: All this talk about Inglourious Bastards just reminded me how under-appreciated Mélanie Laurent’s performance was. Christolph Waltz soaked up all the buzz. She was great in Beginners and I look forward to seeing her in Now You See Me.