Top critical review
Tarantino’s comic-book revenge western has sharp dialogue & fine performances, but is it really just a juvenile splatter-movie?
on 21 May 2013
In `Django Unchained' Quentin Tarantino continues to fictionalise history, as he did so successfully in `Inglorious B's'. Here he brings his violent comic-book style of film making to the period of black plantation-slavery in the pre-civil war southern states of the US.
Essentially DU is a fantasy-revenge western containing all the clichés of that genre as written by Sergio Leone in the 1960s. The screenplay is an amalgam of `Kill Bill' (the relentless repetitive splattering of enemies one by one, and sometimes 10 by 10) and IB (the fantasy revenge of a persecuted minority on their evil-cartoon-cut-out oppressors). As such its target audience is more likely to be juvenile and sensation-seeking than mature and sophisticated.
The saving grace of all Tarantino's films is the witty and clever dialogue, which here (unlike the action and basic plot) is anything but formulaic and continues to entertain throughout. The excellent Christoph Waltz trumps even his stellar appearance as the Nazi villain in IB to deliver a second Oscar-winning performance as King Schultz, the catalyst who holds the story together and drives the action for all but the final reel. Waltz's dialogue is witty, original, cliché-free; delivered with a rare commanding intelligence and perfect timing. Leonardo DiCaprio turns in yet another outstanding character performance as the monstrous white racist and slave-owner Calvin J. Candie, Schultz's ultimate nemesis. Considering the restrictions of his dialogue Jamie Foxx is just OK but simply doesn’t have the screen presence of for example Clint Eastwood in the ‘Dollars’ movies to which DU pays homage; Samuel L. Jackson however shines in a difficult role as smart, sycophantic house slave Stephen inexplicably devoted to Candie. The only disappointment among the main characters is Kerry Washington as Django's enslaved and long-suffering wife Broomhilda. In place of the strong ballsy character full of defiance and witty dialogue that she might have been she instead just whimpers, whines and suffers causing the audience to wonder what on Earth does Django see in her?
The mostly clever script however does not rescue the film from the usual Tarantino excess. Unable to resist the temptation to titillate the juvenile sensibilities of his target audience and instead offer the audience any deeper perspectives on slavery, almost every sentence of dialogue for the whole 165 minutes is sprinkled with the `n' & `f' words. The ketchup-splatter violence gets to be - well just dull, actually. It's overdone to the point of pastiche, so anaesthetises its audience to the degree that all impact is lost. Tarantino needs to mature as a film maker and realise that if a measure of profanity in the right place adds to the power of a script and occasional acts of violence can hook the audience, then relentless repetition actually diminishes the viewing experience and can cause any mature thinking audience (with a mental age above 12) to lose interest and switch off.
So overall just OK: good dialogue and screenwriting with some exemplary acting performances, but ultimately marred by plastic, splatter-cartoon violence, almost ubiquitous unsophisticated racial stereotyping, little attempt at historical accuracy and as a film, lacking in serious substance. This is a shame, as the result could have been so much better. But hey, you may say, at the end of the day it's just schlock entertainment and fantasy fulfilment, not meant to be real - which is true.