I want to hate Django Unchained. I don’t know why, but I just do. Maybe it’s because Tarantino’s filmography is getting so crazy that it would be more conventional and intelligent to dislike him. Maybe it’s because it didn’t exactly live up to Inglorious Basterds, which I never expected it to. But I think the real reason is that I want to be an asshole – an asshole that hates on Quentin Tarantino, because he doesn’t cater to those with less violent interests. But I’m not an asshole (I think) and I love Tarantino. Why? Because he’s willing to do anything with his movies, even when we know what we’re going to see. Django Unchained is far from his best effort (I would rank it his fifth or sixth best film), but you know what? It’s so fucking awesome, I think I can forget that.
Django is, like Basterds, a period piece with a Tarantino piece. Here, we find ourselves in 1858 (2 years before the civil war). The film opens with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) freeing a slave named Django (Jaime Foxx) using classic Tarantino violence. Django teams up with Schultz, who is revealed to be a bounty hunter, and the two set after Schultz’s clients, with Django promised that Schultz will help him free his wife as they move North. Eventually, the two make it to Mississippi where they encounter Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), an extravagant slave owner in possession of Django’s wife (Kerry Washington). After that, as Django and Schultz attempt to get back his wife, Tarantino ridiculousness occurs, which I guess would be expected.
There are a million classic Tarantino things found in this film: the genre bending, the insane twists, and the extended, but hilarious dialogue. It’s all done to absolute perfection. He hasn’t lost his touch in the slightest. The quick camera cuts onto Candie’s face are truly spectacular, as they make the character seem nothing but crazy. Also, Tarantino’s ability to extend scenes long enough that the audience completely anticipates the coming violence is incredible still. There’s nothing better than listening to hilarious dialogue, all the while knowing each character is getting ready to attack the other.
Also, Tarantino is still a master of characterization. The way he made us sympathize with Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs is on full display here. Basically, the story focuses on Django’s transition from submissive slave to confident white-man-killer. What’s so amazing is that this transition never feels forced. There are clear moral checkpoints that Django hits, while in the midst of all this hilarity. That is Tarantino’s best skill: pushing clear moral issues on his audience, while serving them crazy violence and brilliant humor. He is a master of the mix-and-match: as soon as you feel like the movie’s going to get really emotional about slavery, he will make some irreverent joke that makes it all funny.
But you’ll never forget the horrific emotional impact of slavery during this film. Tarantino handled his issues with brilliance in this film. The same way we never lost our sense of evil in the Nazi’s from Inglorious Basterds, we never lose our hatred of slavery in Django. For all those people who are saying that Tarantino handled this issue jokingly, please just shut up. Yes, Spike, I’m talking to you. There are scenes of such absolute violence and evil, that you will never look at DiCaprio’s character with a smile on your face. You will hate him, and you will wait for him to experience the same death that Hitler had in Basterds.
You may be wondering why I’m comparing Basterds and Django so much. Well, they are apparently part of some history revisionist trilogy that Tarantino has in the works (read more about that here). And if you do compare these movies, you will discover that Django is worse. Inglorious Basterds was incredible (the second best Tarantino movie, in my opinion). Here’s where Django falters: it’s longer, but doesn’t have more interesting material. I guess that is a matter of opinion, but I think a majority of people were more interested in the World War II stuff. Maybe just because it’s more recent history. However, both of these films end in similar ways, and the way they build to the climax is different. In Basterds, we know what is coming, and when that last scene finally happens, it is so fucking satisfying. But in Django, there seem to be more twists, but less anticipation. So, when the climax finally comes it just isn’t as satisfying. And twelve extra minutes of waiting for that one scene is just too much. Basterds is like a full steak that fills you up perfectly with the last bite. Django is like one of those monstrous pieces of meat that they eat on Man vs. Food.
But that’s not to say you shouldn’t see Django. You should. You should see it twice and then think about it and then see it again. There is plenty of fun, gore, and symbolism (BLOOD ON THE WHITE SURFACE, I WONDER WHAT THAT MEANS!?) to behold. But in the future, and this may just be me, I want something different from Tarantino. I’m having a ball waiting for the absolute violence and ridiculousness that he concocts, but we've seen it all already. Give me something more. We all know he can do it.
Okay that was the same ending as Basterds. Basically, the whole thing builds to a massive explosion that kills everyone involved, except two of the protagonists. You could say that for both films. I did love the ending scene, as it is nothing but awesome. However, around the time he shoots those Aussies (HEY LOOK IT’S QT) in the desert-looking area, I was ready to leave. Candie and Schultz were dead: the two most captivating characters in the movie. But I’ll be re-watching that explosion a million times over. And finally, FINALLY, someone just shot Samuel L. Jackson when he was getting annoying. He’s one of those actors that are so good in small doses, but terrible after a while. And as soon as he was getting annoying, he got shot in both of his knee-caps. THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT QT.