on 3 June 2013
First of all, I am not a Tarantino-hater: I liked his debut Reservoir Dogs, partly enjoyed his blackly-comedic Pulp Fiction and loved the brilliant Jackie Brown. I consider those first three films to be his most provocative and compelling; they demonstrated that he could offer something fresh while at the same time, "homaging" old genres and classics (most notably Film Noir plot-lines). However ever since those three film I believe he has not made good one. Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 were awful as they had one-dimensional characters and large scenes of rampant self-indulgent dialogue (I like comic books etc.) and was also point blank plagiarism of old Shaw Brothers and Samurai films but without any elements of originality. The same applied to the terrible Vanishing Point (1971) meets Psycho (1960) rip-off: Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds was an extremely over-long rip-off of Robert Aldrich's excellent war film, The Dirty Dozen (1967). However I had high-expectations for "Django Unchained" after reading constantly five star reviews from prestigious newspapers and magazines, I thought this was a return to form and the plot looked very interesting in the way it moulded the compelling genres of "Spaghetti Westerns" and "Blaxploitation."
I'll start with what I liked about the film, first of all I liked the use of colour which was extra-heightened and gave the whole film an eye-pleasing, "comic-book panache", I also appreciated the film's riveting premise, "a freed slave plans revenge on the Slave-owner who owns his wife" , also Leonardo Dicaprio is suitably vicious in his role as the pantomime villain of the film, Candy, Samuel L. Jackson is brilliant as the servile servant, Stephen, he is easily the best thing about this film and finally I liked how the film was going to pay homage to Spaghetti Westerns which is a very entertaining genre.
Unfortunately there were many more poor aspects to the film than good. It seemed like Tarantino was going to create something fresh out of exploitation cinema, however, the film was a terrible disappointment. First of all, even though I liked the long dialogue scenes in Jackie Brown and Reservoir Dogs; the endless dialogue in Django was unnecessary, it went on and on in an incredibly monotonous manner without saying anything intelligent or substantial. In one scene Django and Schultz talk in pub forever, in another scene while the two principals characters and the villain of the piece talk around a table: Tarantino makes, Candy, speak for at least twenty minutes about various subjects while at the same time building to a climax, however the climax that it build to diffuses quickly and builds to a final anti-climax.
Tarantino's use of dialogue is sometimes good, yet here he just does not know when to stop, a good screenwriter knows a scene can only hold the interest of the audience for so long before making them exasperated; a good screenwriter knows this such as Andrew Dominik who directed and wrote the brilliant crime thriller, "Killing Them Softly" he employs the same method as Tarantino: using dialogue to drive scenes yet he knows never to let the dialogue scenes pointlessly continue; and packs it all within 1hr 30 min runtime. If the long scenes of dialogue in Django were clever, witty and effective (which they are in Reservoir Dogs) than I wouldn't have a problem with it, yet they're not, they have the effect of a writer constantly writing with the objective of filling up an entire scene.
Tarantino is so powerful now that no producer has the guts to tell him his scenes are way too pointlessly long, therefore he feels he can make scenes go on and on. Any serious film editor can clearly see that this film is sorely in need of cutting: watching Django is like watching a film that hasn't reached the editing stage of film production. The length is completely unwarranted, it is not intelligent film, its exploitation entertainment (which isn't a bad thing) and does not have anything meaningful to say therefore it does not need the runtime of an epic and intelligent film (of nearly 3hrs) as it does not merit that length. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a near 3hr film that merits its entire epic narrative which encompasses an epic odyssey that includes bandits, violence, betrayal, revenge, the american civil war and three vastly different and interesting characters competing for confederate gold. That film merits its runtime starting in the American West and ending in large cemetery, Django Unchained just goes from freeing a slave in the West to a plantation, with pretty much nothing major or significant happening in between.
It has nothing say about Slavery no matter how much Tarantino likes to claim it does: Slavery acts as a backdrop to the revenge story yet nothing meaningful or informative is said about it (except for the obvious and crude elements: slavery is evil, white plantation owners are evil, slaves were whipped violently, they were also abused etc.) which are elements that are obvious and well-known. Django is a homage to exploitation Westerns and those rarely ran longer than and 1hr and 30mins which would have been perfect for Django whose plot is so wafer-thin that it just cannot sustain the bulky and flabby 2hrs 45mins. Tarantino thinks that if a film is long he is making something epic and profound yet the film does not have enough plot for the endless runtime, Tarantino knows this and therefore drags scenes on with just people talking: in Tarantino's case more is less. Tarantino's film is homaging Westerns and Revenge Cinema and therefore does not need a massive runtime, I could see this film would have been perfect with runtime of 1hr 40mins and would not have damaged at all the quality of film; in fact the film would have been much more superior, compelling and punchy if he had cut the excessive flab (which the film has masses of) and delivered just the meat.
In Spaghetti Westerns the violence was entertaining and riveting, like a Fistful of Dollars in which Clint Eastwood's character guns down a group of bandits and the original Django in which Franco Nero's hero faces off, with a machine gun, a massive group of Klu Klux Klan coming for him. However Tarantino's use of violence emits no excitement: I am not squeamish when it comes to violence yet I do not find the violence in Tarantino's film to be entertaining at all even it he wants us to, no matter how much he thinks gory violence is fun. Most of violent set-pieces feature a man getting ripped apart by a dog, a man killed by a hammer, a gory fight between two Mandingo fighters; it is Tarantino's love for torture-like violence that destroys the entertainment of the film with the exception of only one scene in a hilariously over-the top shootout near the end which actually delivers the violence we want in a Western. He is trying to homage Spaghetti Westerns, whose films had operatic and exciting shootouts yet Tarantino ditches this form of entertaining violence for his preferred which is basically very bloody scenes that border on horror porn. Defenders would argue that the violence in the film is not meant to funny or entertaining as Tarantino is attempting to present violence as it is: brutal and shocking. However this would be a lie as Tarantino has stated he "relishes violence" and many of the violent scenes of Django Unchained seem purposely made to emit laughs from bloody situations.
Finally the main character was also a weak factor for me; he seemed incredibly one-dimensional and motiveless. Django is a character utterly empty of any type of charisma or personality: he lacks any vicious or angry intensity for revenge that a revenge-obsessed character would possess. It seems like he is completely indifferent to the idea of exacting revenge on Candy. Django's desire for revenge is handled with a complete lack of energy, intensity or momentum: for a guy whose wife has been stolen and humiliated by a nasty plantation owner Django doesn't seem to express any anger or hatred about it but only a kind of cold indifference which makes him a very dull character. For a main character he is outshone by his mentor Shultz who at least shows some type of character development: he is forced to confront a dilemma during the film between the bounty hunter business he operates in and the slave trade and at least he confronts a problem and undergoes an emotional upheaval. Whilst all that can be said for Django is he remains in coma-like state throughout the film no matter whether he is angry, upset, cool or happy. In the end when the "great revenge" finally happens that Django is supposed to exact on Candy and which the film has been built up to, it is incredibly underwhelming and anti-climactic (a totally miscalculated scene on the part of Tarantino). The film left me unmoved and un-invested in the dull, under-developed main character and his anti-climactic and unexciting quest for revenge which, believe or not, I actually wanted to be interested in.
I know for many, Tarantino's Western film is great, yet I found his film to fail on so many levels: the violence, the plot, the main character the length and his over reliance on dialogue. I was expecting a compelling homage to classic Spaghetti Westerns with action and a compelling revenge plot instead I got film in which it characters talk forever and whose dialogue derail and slow down an otherwise interesting premise.