Director: Quentin Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino films create – and then exist in – their own world. It is a remarkable skill he has, all the borrowings, the petulant pastiche, the obvious nudge-wink silliness; there are so many hallmarks of his style, the obvious being the peppy dialogue and hipper-than-hip/kitsch-gets-all-dressed-up-good-and-nice-ya-hear soundtrack but no film ever quite repeats a previous cinematic excursion. You know you’re watching Tarantino – and you know you’re in for a ride.
Well, that’s one way to say it – and a good way to sell it. And it remains – as far as I’m concerned – largely true.
But it’s also fair to say that Tarantino hasn’t so much lost the art of storytelling as buried it. When he pushes an agenda it’s trowelled on thick, and Django’s slave-story could be seen as a compassionate showing of just how barbaric slavery was, sure. But to take 165 minutes to tell it, all so Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson can chew some scenery, is criminal.
Tarantino wants to tell us slavery was bad – then treats that very audience as his own personal slaves.
Django isn’t so much unchained as unedited – it sonorously labours on, a hollow victory in the end. A handful of remarkable scenes, some scene-stealing acting but all buried in a too-long/watery plot; the ultimate excuse Tarantino has cleverly crafted across his career is to hide behind each genre excursion. It’s a genre film, a genre film turned on its head! You can hear the fan-boys screaming this as you wrestle with the film’s length, it’s limitations, it’s ultimately lazy conceit – just how many times Tarantino plans to reframe a revenge story is unclear at this point. But we’re in it for the long haul it seems: movies split in two, served as double-feature folly, nothing will stop him.
His innovative storytelling stopped with Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. After that it’s all been about the shock and irreverence. Any moving moments – and Kill Bill certainly had them (both parts) – are ruined by the splatter-paint/scatter-gun approach to throw so much into something that could be so simple.
That’s why his films still delight so many, I’m sure. The idea then is that so much has gone into it and that, therefore, so much must be coming from it. But actually he’s just over-egging the omelette and yet somehow still undercooking it.
The trim, taut Tarantino is Reservoir Dogs – in a way he’s been losing the grip, bit by bit since then.
Still, at least this wasn’t Inglourious Basterds – a really stupid/awful/ugly/hideous/boring film (that just happened to be blessed with the best soundtrack he ever created).
In the end all I can say about Django Unchained is I’m glad I saw it. A lame epithet – but one that comes from having watched any film that has the Tarantino name attached; it does, still, come with some bonus. As with Basterds it does mean I won’t ever have to watch it again. (As with Basterds the very best thing about the film – in this order – is the soundtrack and then Christoph Waltz).