Some films have that special something, and some films seem like they stepped in something. Allow me to help you know the difference, and maybe find you something good to watch.
DJANGO UNCHAINED – rated ‘R’ / 2 hours and 45 minutes / Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino / actors: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
The premise: Dr. Schultz (Waltz) is an Austrian bounty-hunter traveling the American South disguised as a traveling dentist a few years before the Civil War occurs. He frees a slave named Django (Foxx) and helps him find and liberate his wife from the clutches of an eccentric and savage slave-owner (DiCaprio) and his men.
Despite this being a Tarantino-jam, I have to say that I don’t outright, unconditionally, god-i-gotta-watch-it-again LOVE this movie.
Most times though, I’ll tell you: if Quentin is directing AND writing (as he is in DJANGO), then I’m on board. His films are immediately and obviously amazing. PULP FICTION, The KILL BILLs, BASTERDS, the lot. They’re dirty and mean, violent and funny, original and at the same time a cinematic love-letter to a specific film-genre: noir, samurai, WWII, etc. He has a great ear for dialogue, and his characters are usually quite memorable.
But I’m hearing the word “masterpiece” bandied about online, and not only do I have to wince slightly and shake my head to that, I have to add that this movie feels like a step backwards for the big Q.
Though there are moments of greatness (there are), there is also a lot of dead air in between those moments. There are some good songs in the soundtrack, but too many miss-steps to LOVE it (as I do PULP’s, RESERVOIR’s, JACKIE’s; all of them, really) as a CD to listen to independently of the film. This was a hard one for me, because usually his soundtracks are so ON. And this one seemed hastily cobbled together at the last minute. Not good.
I love the performances that everybody gives, from the big names to the smaller character actors, and the stunt casting in between. Samuel L.Jackson is fantastic (that’s not a shocker, but his performance here is certainly worth the price of admission), as is Leonardo DiCaprio, and Christoph Waltz. Buncha bad-asses, great lines, great characters.
It was a lot of fun.
Did you see how I italicized that last word? It’s almost derogatory. Why is ‘fun’ bad all of a sudden? To be clear: it isn’t ‘bad’. But it’s also not enough to just be ‘fun’.
(Especially when that fun is constantly interrupted by graphic slave-abuse, and gratuitous use of the dreaded n-word. Really. Over and over again. I mean, I didn’t count, but it would be in the hundreds!)
I will repeat: it’s not enough to be merely ‘fun’. Let Michael Bay aspire to that lofty goal. Quentin needs to do more. And usually he does. He attempts that here, but there is something murky about the finished product, a lack of definition or focus that isn’t to be found in any of his previous films.
The cinematography is great in KILL BILL and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Gorgeous. Amazing. Creative. Granted, DJANGO certainly has its moments, but they feel too far apart from each other, too staged, a bit pretentious, and a little forced at times. This is a ‘consistency’ problem that runs throughout, and across several aspects of the movie.
This is a story about a slave in the deep South rising up to overthrow his former masters. It is a story about that former-slave somehow finding his wife and rescuing her from a madman. This is Quentin FINALLY tackling the Western-genre, with all of its gun-slinging badassery. This should be one unbroken line of aaaamaaaaaazing.
But there are too many moments where I got impatient, lost, or just plain bored. In fact, there are enough of those moments that I can safely say that it’s not just me being ADHD-ish, or randomly hungry/bored, and taking it out on the film. It’s not my fault I wasn’t overwhelmed with its awesomeness. I was ready, I was waiting.
This is a nearly three-hour movie that felt every bit as long as it was.
Did I have fun? Yes. Was it bloody, clever, and quirky? Yes.
Does it sail over that bar that Quentin has set so high for himself?
No, sorry, but no.
It is worth watching in the theater, and also eventually adding it to the home-collection when it comes out (because c’mon: it’s Tarantino!), but DJANGO UNCHAINED falls somewhat short of that near-perfect greatness that he has achieved so often in the past.