Django Unchained

Django Unchained ★★★

It's not you, Django, it's me. At least I think it is.

First off, I do not like Westerns. At all. I had my hopes pinned on Mr. Tarantino to save the genre for me, but I'm afraid he didn't. Second, I love Tarantino. I have seen all his films and while not all his films are masterpieces, there are some true gems there. I also have no problems with the 'Tarantino universe' and his self-referential, homage/collage style. It works for me. And the ironic thing is that it is exactly that that seems to be this film's biggest flaw. More on that later, first the good bits.

The acting is absolutely superb. The main trio of performances, with the addition of Jackson later on, carry this film and make it for the better part a joy to watch. Especially Jackson outdoes himself, finally acting again instead of playing a version of himself. Foxx is charismatic enough but is completely blown off the screen by the siblime Christoph Waltz. DiCaprio perhaps laid it on a bit too thick at times, but for the better part his glee and sadistic smirks worked fantastically well.

It is perhaps superfluous to say this but the dialogue is once again absolutely fantastic. We should never take that Tarantino quality for granted. It is something that is expected, but that shouldn't detract from the fact that he has simply never failed to meet those expectations. There are flashes of cinematic brilliance here, of which the climactic dinner scene is perhaps one of my favourite scenes of the year. It is tense, paced perfectly and absolutely riveting with the only shots being fired coming from the actors' mouths.

What's wrong then? Well, and this is the easy bit, if you pay homage to a genre I don't like and drench it in every genre trope imaginable and furthermore style everything around it, most prominently the (in my eyes) awful music, it'd take a miracle for me to love it wholeheartedly. And this is absolutely not the film's fault, like I said earlier, that's on me.

What didn't sit well with me the most was the tone. For the first time, Tarantino's style didn't fit like the comfortable pair of old slippers I was used to. It is completely out of balance and the film is awfully paced. What Tarantino does wrong here in my eyes lies in the violence. I don't mind violent films at all. But when cartoon violence is mixed with raw, brutal realistic violence and it is set in a very dubious backdrop it starts to feel completely disjointed. When I for example look at the whipping scene I feel it is tense and very powerful. When I look at the final shoot out I feel it is hilarious and brilliantly choreographed. Place them together in the same film and it doesn't work any more for me.

I have heard Tarantino speak about how he wanted to make a film that 'deals with slavery'. If that was his true intention, I think he failed miserably. This film doesn't deal with it at all. Sure, the times are used as a backdrop and racism was a part of every day society then, but the film doesn't do anything with it. I feel this is because it is still made from a white man's perspective. Tarantino stated he wanted to empower black people in a film dealing with slavery and racism. But I'm afraid the main thing I saw was exploitation, not empowerment. I have no problems with the frequent use of the n-word (which is in itself also a white man's reasoning), I don't mind the gratuitous violence, I just have problems with the fact that this films seems to suffer from an identity crisis, or perhaps an identity overload.

Like in most of his films all morale is rather dubious, but he got away with it because most of his films are simple revenge tales. This is no different, but, like in Inglorious Basterds, he is also trying to say something else. And with that attempt at empowerment and shining a light on a dark period in America's history I felt that that moral ambiguity did not sit well with me. Django is too easily persuaded to kill people in my eyes and I find it rather ironic (and also a bit unnecessary) that the true villain of the piece has a rather surprising skin colour, especially when juxtaposed to everything that went before it.

I guess I like my Tarantino a whole lot less messy and even more uncomplicated. If I distill the elements in it that were there as pure entertainment, there is a good deal to enjoy. It unfortunately left an unpleasant taste in my mouth. And not in a good way.

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