Is Quentin Tarantino repeating himself a bit in his latest film, Django Unchained? I certainly think so.
Tarantino got off on revisionist history with Inglourious Basterds, changing the events of World War II for entertainment’s sake. He got away with it because the movie was stylistically awesome, and Eli Roth wowed with his baseball bat.
This time, Tarantino has taken his crazy pen to the subject of African-American slavery, and the result is an uncomfortable, yet somewhat entertaining, mixed bag.
The movie has all of the Tarantino-isms: super violence, awesome music choices, cutesy monologues—but it gave me that “been there, done that” feeling at times. For the first time ever during a Tarantino movie, I found myself a little bored during some stretches.
Christoph Waltz, who played the evil Nazi Hans Landa in Basterds, returns to Tarantino Land as Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter wandering around the southern U.S. two years before the Civil War. Schultz has the same ingenuity and flair for words that the Landa had, but he’s a much nicer human being. That is, unless you are one of his targets. Then, he will shoot you down in a spray of brains and intestines.
His character despises slavery, but purchases a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) because he has heard the man has seen some wanted men he needs to shoot. As it turns out, Django is a crack shot, the two become partners, and lots of evil crackers are going to die violent deaths.
Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) has been sold to an evil slave owner named Calvin Candie (a slithery Leonardo DiCaprio), and Schultz agrees to accompany Django on a mission to rescue her. When DiCaprio enters the fray, the movie hits its highest heights. Tarantino allows the usually virtuous actor a chance to be truly disgusting, and DiCaprio jumps happily at the opportunity.
The movie is long (two hours and 45 minutes), as are some other Tarantino films, but this is the first Tarantino film that “felt” long to me. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that this is the first Tarantino film not to be edited by the late Sally Menke. Menke was a big part of the Tarantino universe, and her cuts were magical. Perhaps Menke would’ve made this gun-and-pony show fly by effortlessly, as did all of her other Tarantino projects.
Django Unchained is a sporadically entertaining film that feels a little off. It also feels like Tarantino’s most sadistic film to date, and I say this while remembering the “Bring out the Gimp!” scene from Pulp Fiction. Again, maybe Menke had a way of presenting Tarantino’s crazed visions that his current editor can’t summon up. The sort of stuff that is just plain nauseating here was actually kind of funny in past Tarantino efforts.
Waltz is terrific, and it’s refreshing to see him playing a crazy guy with a big heart. He’s usually such a prick in movies, so it’s nice to see him in a heroic role. DiCaprio gives his part of the film a funny and sinister edge, although his monologue about the inner workings of a slave’s skull is a bit much. Foxx makes for a decent enough hero.
Django Unchained is mediocre Tarantino at best, and I can only give the slightest of recommendations. See it for Waltz and DiCaprio. I’m hoping it signifies the end of Tarantino’s revisionist history and exploitation/grindhouse phase. Maybe he should tackle science fiction or romantic comedy the next time out.
Unfortunately, I just read a story where he teased an idea for a sequel to Basterds, so totally new and innovative ideas from Tarantino might be far away.