Django Unchained

Django-Unchained

When the first images of a dusty, stony background drift into focus and the title “Django Unchained” pops up accompanied by the character’s iconic theme, it’s a wonderful and exciting moment. Tarantino does hype better than any living director – and his films often live up to, or surpass it. Django Unchained strangely feels like an unfortunate misstep – despite being a good and exciting film – solely because it fails to match the same quality of Tarantino’s previous outings.

What bothers me most about Django Unchained is it feels like a lesser director trying to imitate the Tarantino style rather than an original entry from the auteur himself. All the beats are there – observational dialogue, the main villain’s monologue, hyper-stylized violence, and homages to popular culture, but it all feels a little flat, almost like Tarantino is just going through the motions.

The sequence most akin to Pulp Fiction‘s “Royale with cheese” conversation or Reservoir Dogs‘ explanation of what Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is really about is a scene with Ku Klux Klan members complaining about the difficulties of seeing through their masks while riding on horseback. It’s amusing, fine, but it’s not memorable nor all that witty. It’s the same with DiCaprio’s monologue, which is straight racism rather than an observation about slavery in the South (although he does pose an interesting question about why slaves wouldn’t revolt when they outnumber the plantation owners, but it’s never fully explored).

Finally, the homages to pop culture -the most overt being the plantation is known as “Candie Land” because of the character’s last name, and a short lecture on German fairy tales – likewise failed to engage me. It all feels a bit contrived.

There’s a fantastic climatic shootout that is arguably Tarantino’s finest action sequence (and best soundtrack choice in awhile) but that goodwill is squandered when a superfluous twenty-five minutes extends the film for little purpose and to diminishing returns (excluding, of course, Samuel L. Jackson’s comeuppance – the rest being unnecessary filler).

Django Unchained may be lesser Tarantino, but it’s still a fun film – despite the ghosts of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds overshadowing it by treading the same ground in a superior fashion.

Grade: B

Sidenote: It’s almost been a month since I saw Django Unchained and I’ve been trying to think of lines of quotable dialogue. The only two I can think of (“You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention,” and “I like the way you die, boy.”) were both featured prominently in the trailer.

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