So here it is; my way too late post about Django Unchained. I haven’t had a huge amount of time to go to the cinema recently, and whilst Tarantino films are some of the films I like forward to seeing most, paying good money to see a film that I know I will hate just so that I can spit bile about it with authority for the next two weeks is not really in the budget at the moment.
The likelihood is that, if you’re reading this, you’re someone I know and so will know how much I hate Quentin Tarantino.
So, anyway, a work colleague gave me a copy of Django (The ‘D’ is not silent, Quentin, the ‘J’ is pronounced like a ‘Y’, sort of how the ‘M’ in ‘mnemonic’ is not silent) and I finally got a chance to watch it on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the woman I love. Even this picture of coziness was not enough to suppress my anger by the end of the utterly unreasonable 2h45 running time. Where to start?
In typical Tarantino fashion, Django likes itself far too much. We’ve always told Quentin how much we love his dialogue (I haven’t told him that, we haven’t spoken for years), and for that we’re punished with scenes that linger for 10 minutes longer than they need to. A particularly excruciating dinner sequence in which DiCaprio hammily overimparts a monologue to our heroes had me rolling around the bed with restless legs by the end. It was somewhat less comfortable than lunch with my dear grandparents, and one of them is half-deaf and they’re separated so they only talk in insults. At least we know it’s a proper film though; Leo cut his hand whilst filming it, so involved was he in the scene. Very ‘method’. In the words of Laurence Olivier – “have you tried acting, darling?”.
Whilst the above-mentioned sequence is certainly the most memorably boring of the film, it is by no means singular in its ineffectiveness. A cringe-inducing ‘black comedy’ bit where the regulators (an early iteration of the KKK) talk about not being able to see out of their masks is, surprise-surprise, too long, but also completely and utterly devoid of wit. It’s like watching schoolkids filming their own version of Blazing Saddles and posting it to YouTube.
But, and as much as I hate to pay Tarantino any kind of compliment, back-handed or otherwise, one of the most disappointing things about it is that he’s started to plagiarise himself. As much as all of his films are ‘homages’, ‘pastiches’, ‘rip-offs with no imagination’, Django is just the same film as Inglourious Basterds. Ostensibly a ‘western’, though his interest in creating a genuine attempt at an old-fashioned Leone-style movie seems to wear off immediately after the title sequence, the label seems to serve only to fool you into believing he hasn’t yet completely run out of ideas. It is, at its heart, a sad, adolescent fantasy based on historical events that deserve a little more gravity. I remember my blood boiling when I saw a picture of Hitler when I was young, but as I grew older the desire to beat him around the head faded somewhat. You know, because I’m a grown up now. Now the only people I want to beat ’round the head are my girlfriend’s exes (totally reasonable). Tarantino’s desire to lash out didn’t fade. It’s the same here, and, just as in Inglourious, it comes off as offensive. A spoilt child given completely free reign running around shouting. Perhaps seeing it the day after seeing ‘Lincoln’ informed this feeling somewhat, but the scenes in which slaves were beaten, whilst certainly not played for laughs or pure sensationalism, were unaffecting to the point of tastelessness. Tarantino sets up a universe in which we are taught to enjoy blood, bullets and ultraviolence for the duration of the movie. And that’s totally fine, most of the time. But to try and shoehorn brutal shootouts into a film about slavery, and then to try and have ‘stunned silence’ moments of the very real, very shameful treatment of black people in American history just isn’t right. Ditto the language used, and the characters created – Don Johnson’s ‘Big Daddy’ character, as well as Sam Jackson’s ‘Steven’, both seem to be played for laughs. Tarantino is inviting people to snigger at the use of that word; at the fact that Sam Jackson acts like a racist white slave-owner because he’s been so utterly indoctrinated. But that’s not funny, is it? That character is a film by itself – shocking, disturbing and interesting, but certainly not comic relief.
Christoph Waltz is really good in it, though. That seemed to be people’s defence for how terrible Inglourious was, so I’ll use it again for this one. They are, after all, the same film.