Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Posted by Chris Santucci
In many interviews, Tarantino references Rio Bravo as his favorite film. You can understand why. It's mainly John Wayne, Ricky Nelson, Walter Brennon, and Dean Martin lounging around, singing songs, exchanging quips and entertaining the hell out of us for two-and-a-half hours. For the past 20 years, Tarantino has continued to try and replicate this feeling along with mixing a stylized musing of Sergio Leone among others. He loves putting his cast in a small space and letting them talk and talk.
In Django, Tarantino's best scene is one long dinner party with some of the finest actors in the business, giving some of their best work, musing behind a layer of lies and deception. First, there's the hero, Django (Jamie Foxx), who is laconic enough to be a shoe-in for the Clint Eastwood part. He's a liberated slave hoping to rescue his wife. The "Tuco" role is left with Django's partner: the German bounty-hunter and slave-sympathizer Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Waltz is so mesmerizing and has the lion's share of dialog as he partners with Django during a dazzling first hour of fugitive-hunting. Waltz is simply a marvel in his sure-fire eloquence and good-naturedness. There's also the villain, slave-owner Calvin Candie, played with devilish glee by Leonardo Dicaprio. Another surprise is Samuel L. Jackson, honing in his fast-talking loud-mouth persona as the Candie's loyal house slave, whose bulging eyes and nervous disposition serves as a wonderful bonus.
Watching these four break bread over a dinner is utterly delightful. Tarantino engages the widescreen image to its maximum effect; allowing each principal to showcase and react to each other while allowing our eyes to dance from one character to the next--a rewarding experience for multiple viewers. Tarantino also remains a miastro of the written word; allowing each character to possess their own levels of language, with Candie and Schultz having the most fun with their dialog.
Unfortunately, Tarantino retains his blood-lust from the Kill Bills, except all of the gunfights share the same cliche-ridden style. His action lacks the novelty we come to expect from a man who has recycled and rewritten the cinematic language. The gunfights are rescued by some levity, but the same joke is used repeatedly--as if Tarantino cannot get enough. Although violence in films hardly influences me, there's a lofty amount of blood expelled to the point of nauseousness.
Django Unchained falls into Tarantino's lesser, latter works like Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds, where there are some moments of brilliance that are hindered merely by overkill and Tarantino's stubbornness for making long films with too little filling. The biggest crime is keeping Django and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) within the restrictions of their roles, allowing little to be said or delivered that brings them to life. Like Brad Pitt in Basterds, the seemingly lead part is the least interesting, with a fine actor like Foxx restricted to a by-the-numbers part. Washington--as lovely as she looks--is given only a hand full of dialog, with all hopes of garnering sympathy left to our natural disdain for the evils of slavery. Instead, we're treated to various sub-characters and distracting cameos (Tarantino's New Zealand (or was he Scottish?) slaver being the primary culprit) getting amusing asides that sometimes overspend their welcome. There's an escape plot in the third act that is purely mechanical; serving no reason for existing other than to give Tarantino's cult boy acting hero, Michael Parks, a juicy five-minute part.
Given the bloated nature of the film, I can only imagine the volume of deleted material--or lack thereof. It's apparent that Tarantino loves his work, loves his actors and loves the amount of juicy syllables they can expunge without flinching. Yet, his biggest crime is failure to recognize when his audience is less enamored.
All could be forgiven if Django unveiled some hidden surprises or something less obvious as Tarantino's position on slavery (It's evil! In case you wondered.) Rather that beckon any questions, he reiterates any idea that is commonplace, without any interesting aside to be posited. The only moment of intrigue comes from DiCaprio, who produces a skull of a former slave and explains how genetics leads to a slave's utlimate subjugation. At nearly three hours, I could have done with a few more scenes like this and a few less bullet wounds. But Tarantino was never much of a moralist was he?
If there was any film to compare with Django, it would be Tarantino's Kill Bills, which tallied over four hours. Yet, that film duo maintained a seemingly straight-forward singular plot, but came loaded with surprises, twists, and even intrigue. The characters had dimension. Django, in comparison, feels completely chained.