21 January 2013


Is Quentin Tarantino really so controversial, when the usually uber-safe Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences continues to nominate his films for multiple Oscars, including Best Picture? After Inglourious Basterds was one of the first films to benefit from the broader field of Best Picture nominations, QT's follow-up, Django Unchained, seems to have answered with a resounding "Fuck yeah, I'm still controversial."

Still, this is Tarantino delving into Westerns, a genre that tends to be increasingly favoured by the Academy in modern times, while inevitably putting his own spin on it. Most will see it as a Southern, taking place across several American states, pre-civil war. German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz liberates the eponymous Django from slavery, and enlists him in the collection of a bounty. In return for his service, Schultz pledges his support in unchaining Django's wife, Broomhilda, who has been sold to a sadistic plantation owner by the name of Calvin J. Candie.

It makes little sense to list all of the tropes that appear in every Tarantino film at the beginning, except to say that if Christoph Waltz is in every Tarantino film from here on out, I'll be very happy indeed. I've enjoyed Waltz in every film he's done since his Oscar-winning turn as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, but Tarantino has written another perfect role for him- Schulz is, morally, the polar opposite of Landa, but Waltz maintains that air of confidence and capability that makes him so damn watchable. The other reason that there's no sense listing the tropes is that many of them seem to be absent here.

While it's unmistakably a QT movie, with that inimitable style and consummate wordiness, the narrative is un-chaptered and almost completely linear. Given the theory by which every one of the director's movies takes place in a universe where Hitler was machine-gunned into mush by the Bear Jew, as per the audacious finale of Basterds, this period piece is a new frontier. It soaks up blood just as well, and there are a couple of incongruous modern tracks in the meticulously sourced soundtrack, but this feels somewhat different. One of the side effects, unfortunately, is that it also feels too damn long.

Nobody does individual scenes like Tarantino, and so when his films over-run, (especially in the case of the Kill Bill double bill) it's tough to pick out individual scenes that you'd rather not have seen. It's the director's lack of discipline with his own screenplay that's to blame though. While an eminently cuttable scene featuring a fledgling Ku Klux Klan is too hilarious to lose, a certain cameo (guess who?) involving a truly awful Australian accent is nothing but flim-flam, in a film that last almost three hours. The experience of reading any Tarantino script is like reading a novel before seeing a film adaptation. Having read the script, I'd have hoped for more economy in the translation to the screen, but then by his films, he's never struck me as somebody who painstakingly reworks drafts before committing to celluloid.

However, by lack of discipline, I'm not referring to what some have perceived as an over-use of the N-word- if people come away from a film in which black slaves are whipped, fed to dogs and forced to fight to the death, only complaining about how he always uses that word, then they're desensitised in one respect and overly sensitive in another. There's surely going to be an inappropriate YouTube super-cut of every instance in the film, as it's espoused by any number of white supporting characters, spat out by Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson, and used genially by Leonardo DiCaprio. As mentioned, Christoph Waltz is one of the stand-outs, but this is just an extraordinarily well-acted film.

Foxx ultimately only seems to be holding his own against the majesty of the supporting cast, but he's a rootable hero, and his character arc is enjoyably realised. DiCaprio, on the other hand, sinks his teeth into a nastier role than he has ever portrayed before- Candie is a disgusting, idiotic creation, and the escalating tension between himself and the controlling tendencies of Schultz is electric. Without giving too much away though, it's Samuel L. Jackson who blew me the fuck away as Stephen, Candie's most trusted confidante. You have never seen him act like this before, and while it's Waltz who got his second Best Supporting Actor nod from the Academy, I submit that this should have been Jackson's year.

Django Unchained is the second of what Tarantino promises will be a historical revenge trilogy. Inglourious Basterds worked as a revenge fantasy movie because he cared more about cinema, and that both alienated the audience from the true history and endeared them to the fantasy. If this does for black people what Basterds did for Jewish people, it's despite his greater interest in cinema. It would probably be speaking out of turn to suggest that the film misses the late Sally Menke, the director's long-time editor, but his reluctance to kill his darlings and shave out some of those admittedly exquisite scenes of flim-flam makes this less rewatchable than some of his previous works. Still, for this cast, performing this dialogue alone, it's watchable. For being another anachronistic and enjoyable stand-offish historical saga on top of that, it's unmissable.

Django Unchained is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Django Unchained
, why not share your comments below? What would you have cut out, aside from bigger eyeholes in those hoods? 
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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