Django Unchained

Django Unchained ★★★★½

It took a complete rewatch to remember why I bailed out at the 1 hour mark the first time. The Mandingo fight scene is not just unpleasant, but is the most unpleasant thing Tarantino has ever put on film. And that’s a whole lot of unpleasant.

But watching that first section helped me figure something out, which is that Schultz, for all that he appears to be a lovely protagonist, is (probably more than) a bit racist himself, with a racial element to his condescension that is far out of proportion to the superiority of his skill as a bounty-hunter. I hadn’t realized that he is the preemptive rebuttal to the idea of this being a white-savior tale, even though that is what he believes himself to be. This isn’t his story, no matter how much he thinks it is.

Short-ish version: some of the shots are genuinely amazing (in every sense. The white man’s blood spattering on cotton is as good an image as any I’ve seen recently), Jamie Foxx is better than he’ll ever be again[1], I’d wager, and this is the tipping point for Leonardo into tolerability[2]. Standard Tarantino ability to incite tension, do small touches (like Candy’s awful teeth) and compositional excellence, of course[3] with, for example, a solitary woman standing in a field feeling incredibly deep by way of showing an individual that represents a return to community for Foxx.

On the other hand, this is the first Menke-less QT film, and it drags for stretches. The zoom-in shot accompanied by a sound-effect is probably not something she’d’ve let him do more than once, much less three times, and likewise, one suspects there would be fewer insert shots of Django grabbing for his gun when interacting with Candyland denizens. It’s often implied on Foxx’ face.

Lastly, while it is easy to enjoy a solid uncomplicated revenge yarn, Tarantino is, perhaps a bit too good at it. I remember when, in the early days of 24 I got (to my shame) a charge out of watching terrorists getting their fingers extra-judicially broken. I feel the same way here, in that I know at some point, I’m going to dislike how much this violence[4] was energizing to me. But it was.

Or really short version: Intermittently masterful, but standard Tarantino issues made worse by lack of the editor that did best by him. Also, least good QT soundtrack.

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[1] To be clear, he’s fucking amazing.

[2] Which is to say that I wanted to repeatedly punch and elbow his throat.

[3] Samuel Jackson is also great, which, duh.

[4] Added a day later: It isn't uncomplicated violence though. It is easy to imagine the Django's ability to ruthlessly murder everybody, including a woman, later, is brought about by making him watch the death of D'Artagnan (who he does specifically shout out to). Well before OUATIH, Tarantino was meditating on the desensitizing effects of violence-watching. Which is, I'm sure, why some of it is so unpleasant.

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