Reservoir Dogs launched a whole new generation of filmmakers, hellbent on trying to mimic his unique pop culture rich cool cat dialogue. Pulp Fiction quickly made it on to AFI’s coveted Top 100 films of all-time list. His True Romance script is in a league of its own for a genre not known for originality.
Personally, Jackie Brown is my favorite Tarantino picture. Easily his most human film.
Now he’s given us Django Unchained, a heaping slice of condescension pie slathered in white (guilt) cake frosting and topped with a blood-red maraschino cherry.
Sure, some of Tarantino’s writing is still full of surprises; but would someone please remind him that every film needs editing – even his precious dialogue.
He might also want to consider the virtue of telling a story that does not include a massive body count and robotic mayhem. Films do influence people, Quentin. You know it, Harvey knows it, we all know it.
The story is pretty straightforward. A pre Civil War German dentist who moonlights as a bounty hunter offers a slave, whom he has freed, a job. “You mean I get paid for killing white folk?”
But, Tarantino being Tarantino, never one to trust the silence in his own pictures, even mucks that up with one of his trademark unorthodox pop music choices. Suddenly, I was no longer thinking of Jeremiah Johnson, but instead thought I was watching a Cialis commercial.
Casting has been a Tarantino calling card from the beginning. He is widely credited for rediscovering John Travolta, casting him against type in Pulp Fiction. Of all the directors working in film today, his phone call gets the fastest response. Every actor in the biz awaits a chance to get down and dirty for him.
This time he snagged Leonardo DiCaprio to play a maniacally sadistic plantation owner. I’m guessing it was a short conversation. “Hey, Leo, it’s Quentin.” Leo: “When do we start?”
Leo gets to cut loose as the dastardly Calvin Candie, inheritor of the infamous Candie Land plantation.
He plays it big and nasty, filthy teeth, greasy pomade, and all; but he is also all over the map with his Mississippi twang, at one point literally doing an impression of Gary Oldman’s bad ass pimp, Drexl, from True Romance.
Waltz gives the film’s best performance, but so what. At this point, it’s almost as if Tarantino uses him like a shiny little wind up toy that he purchased while doing a press junket in Berlin.
Much of the rest of the casting is nothing more than a tedious distraction. Tarantino the perpetual kid in a candy store.
What was Jonah Hill doing riding with the Klan? Did anyone notice not only West Side Story’s Russ Tamblyn standing alongside the town Marshall, but his daughter Amber Tamblyn looking down from the hotel window? Neither spoke a word. Anyone else notice that 48 Hours‘ James Remar not only played the first gunshot to the head victim in the opening Django release scene, but he also played Candie’s plantation henchman? Was that Revenge of the Nerds’ Robert Carradine alongside Jesus Christ Superstar’s Ted Neeley as slave trackers?
And didn’t Quentin himself get the memo that he is not a good actor? Apparently not, because he shows up in a pivotal scene in Django as an Australian bounty hunter. This goes beyond distraction and straight in to clinical narcissism. Bad idea, Q. Even worse accent.
For my money, however, the biggest distraction is yet another appearance by Samuel L. Jackson. Enough already! Having this guy show up in a Tarantino movie now is like walking in to a micro brewery in Amsterdam and ordering a Bud Lite. So stale.
Jackson plays Candie’s devoted butler who foils Django’s scheme to buy back his slave wife (Kerry Washington). I guess he’s convincing enough as an ancient house “nigga” (this word is uttered in Django Unchained probably no less than 500 times!), but once the pot boils over and the final showdown arrives he conveniently becomes Jules, the unforgettable character he made iconic in Pulp Fiction. Yawn.
And how convenient for Tarantino to have an entire picture dedicated to a freed slave slaughtering oodles and oodles of wicked white men only to ultimately face off against another black man. Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
In one scene, DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie advances a theory that black’s have a limited brain capacity. He pulls out a skull from a deceased “nigga,” and proceeds to show his dinner guests a set of dimples in the cavity that show a scientific lack of imagination, intellect, and compassion.
Does the script offer a rebuttal? A counter argument proving the absurdity of the theory? Barely.
Dr. Schultz informs Candie that it was a French black man, Alexandre Dumas, who wrote The Three Musketeers, relevant because one of Candie’s primo slaves was named after the book’s central character, d’Artagnon. Trust me, this moment gets lost in the shuffle of the blood shed. Lots and lots of ridiculously cartoonish blood shed. Kill whitey seems to be the real answer to such racism.
I hated this film. I can see why Spike Lee did too.
As I walked out of the theatre (not sure why I waited until the end, I was tempted to walk out several times earlier), I overheard a pair of guys in their mid 20’s talking about Tarantino’s “brilliant dialogue.” I remembered thinking the same thing – once upon a time.
Like Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained has a few inspired scenes. But just a few.
The last 40 minutes of the film is student film awful. Get this final exchange between Django and his damsel in distress, Hilda: “Hey, little troublemaker,” he says to her after the plantation explodes. To which she responds “Hey, big troublemaker.”
This is not Casablanca, folks.