Tarantino’s cunning and carnage
Even the most passionate fan of filmmaker Quentin Tarantino will have to wonder about the timing of his latest ultra-violent genre comedy “Django Unchained.” This homage to spaghetti westerns and 1970s-era blackploitation films is filled with the beloved auteur’s typically pulpy commentary – focusing this time on slavery, race relations and German fables.
But seriously, all this gory gunfire, especially given recent tragic shootings and from a Christmas Day-released film no less?
So, while it is hard to recommend such a film right now, the obvious artistic excellence on display can’t be denied. Quite simply, no one makes films as challenging, as interesting, and yes, at times unflinchingly violent as Quentin Tarantino; and for the right audience, nothing else is as gleefully entertaining.
Here Tarantino borrows as much from Mel Brooks (“Blazing Saddles”) as he does Martin Scorcese (“The Departed”). “Django Unchained” begins as a pre-civil war buddy adventure involving former dentist, current bounty hunter Schultz (Christoph Waltz) recruiting whipped slave Django (Jamie Foxx) to help him hunt down known criminals to reap the rewards. Django agrees with the stipulation that Schultz help him rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the tortured life of a plantation slave. The first half of “Django Unchained” involves the duo’s successful exploits (Django is a marvelously quick study with the Colt .45), their blossoming friendship, and Django reveling in the bounty money with slick, often hilarious forms of haberdashery. One uproarious scene involves the pair’s confrontation with a Ku Klux Klan gang (some historical liberties taken, no doubt) that, as one would expect, doesn’t end well for the hooded bufoons.
The film then shifts gears to a plantation owned by the wealthy, boorish Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who owns Broomhilda, and the attempt by the smooth talking Schultz and Django – now with a smoldering defiance—to rescue her. Adding to the tension is the prosethically-aged Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, Candie’s loyal house-slave and foremaster, who picks up on the odd couple’s true purpose. That’s when, typically of most Tarentino films, the intricately choreographed, grindhouse-influenced bloodbath begins and (seemingly) never ends. Coupled with a final, fitting happy ending epilogue (well, except for any and all white people involved) the film overdoes its stay by about half an hour.
For his fans, Tarantino’s perverse tendencies (which here include quite possibly the most prolific use of the “n-word” in film history) are no doubt gloriously welcomed. And so it is with “Django Unchained,” which might be better than his previous best film (the Oscar-nominated “Inglorious Basterds”), which somehow exhibits high art (all of the performances are top-notch) while it walks a fine line between serious historical re-purposing and inflammatory comic excess and brutal violence.
Unabashed, unabated, ill-timed, and nearly always ingeniously crafted.
Rated R. For strong graphic violence throughout, language, and some nudity.