Django Unchained

Django Unchained

Saw this five times during its initial run (free tix) and I’ve been terrified of rewatching it ever since. Still have to revisit Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill Vol. 2 (both of which I’ve only seen once) but this definitely feels like Tarantino’s weakest. Big difference for me is that the first half, which was so exhilarating in theaters, now feels like diminishing returns of just about every Tarantino impulse. Many point to Sally Menke’s absence for the off, oblong vibe but it also seems as if his writing had dulled somewhat since Basterds. I found Schultz’s self-satisfied soliloquies mostly uninspired during this stretch and the hood scene, an audacious riot from memory, largely an embarrassment. Flat as a pancake, unnecessary, and unproductive in much the same way as Tarantino’s masturbatory performance in Pulp Fiction. Hard-pressed to think of a worse sequence in his career, honestly.

The second half is much stronger and the oft-criticized epilogue absolutely vital this time around. Like Randy Newman’s Good Old Boys, another “should he be doing this?” work from a white provocateur that excoriates the South, Tarantino’s film twists the knife by critiquing the well-meaning liberals alongside the monstrous racists. If not for Waltz’s “panache”, it might be easier to spot Schultz’s faults. At first, it’s little things like condescendingly coaching Django or not understanding the depths of his experience (the way he says, “Give me your black slaverrrr” like it’ll be a fun bit of dress-up). He “detests” slavery, yes, but can hardly reckon with it on a physical level and all but blows it for Django on account of his wounded pride. (Funny that both Schultz and Landa are undone by their presumptuous wit.) The dimensions to Schultz (and, by extension, Tarantino’s relationship to the material) elevate this beyond mere revisionism.

Also, a small detail that has haunted me in the weeks since revisiting Django is the way Candie’s consigliere is audibly winded and intoxicated by Candie’s volcanic, phrenological tirade. Seemingly a sophisticate, you suddenly realize why he associates with someone like Candie, whose luxe attire cannot obscure his yellowed grin. He’s privy to all the fire and brimstone without getting his hands dirty.

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