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There's an old saying. If you don't want someone to join a crowd, you ask them, "If everyone were jumping off of a cliff, would you?" Well, I have. So my answer would be "Yes". True story.
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Review of Django Unchained

Friday, February 08, 2013

this entry brought to you by modest mouse, "bukowski"

One criticism that's always bothered me about Quentin Tarantino's movies is how violent they supposedly are. His movies are notoriously violent. Except, when you actually go and look at them, they're really not. The notorious ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs happens off camera. There is one one on-camera death with blood in Pulp Fiction-- the other characters that die are cut aways (Marvin, who gets shot in the back of the car by Vincent; Vincent, who gets shot by Butch in the bathroom) or are bloodless (the fellow with the Flock of Seagulls haircut in the apartment who gets shot by Jules). There is of course, the violence in the first Kill Bill, but that violence is absolutely cartoonish; in fact, there are actually parts of the plot that happen in cartoon form. The second Kill Bill, which is the one where all the drama happens, is much less violent.

But then there's Django Unchained. Not only does it out Kill Bill the movie Kill Bill in terms of just sheer amounts of blood-- calling the bloodshed in the movie "geysers" would be inappropriate, as they look more like gallon-sized buckets of blood exploding all at once, over and over-- but also in drama. Unlike the first Kill Bill which was over-the-top and nearly superhero-ish with its bloodshed, Django Unchained isn't afraid to have rockets of blood even in what would otherwise be a dramatic scene. When the movie gleefully goes into an extended over-the-top violence fest 4/5ths of the way through, in parts where Quentin is very clearly mixing violence with laughter, the violence is so utterly explosive it feels perverse.

...Which, of course, is exactly the point. The characters that get the "four gallons of blood shooting up and hitting the ceiling" treatment are slavers. Characters that are bad people but are not slavers do not die this way. In fact, there is a moment in Django Unchained where Django himself wonders about killing a person, but is reminded that this man is bad, and must die. And that particular bad person's death is quiet, and almost shockingly sad. Quentin never forgets to remind you that he knows exactly what he's doing at all times, even when he seems to have over-indulged himself. This isn't just a revenge fantasy-- when the balls go to the wall, it is in fact his revenge fantasy, the thirteen year old stuck inside him that read about the horrors of slavery, and wanted to travel back in time and blow everybody that dared own a person up. It's not like you could argue they don't deserve it.

This leads me to the second criticism of Tarantino's work: That he blatantly steals from obscure movies, and that he's a glorified rip-off artist. I never really understood why anyone would say this, and I feel like it entirely misses the point. Yes, Tarantino loves to make direct homages to older films. But here again comes the dual nature of Tarantino's style. Part of him is that 13 year old boy that is only interested in making the exact same movies he watched when he was a kid, delving into the deep, dark recesses of the local video store. But, just as there is a guiding power that shows that, through the violence, he knows exactly what he's doing, there's a grown-up side of Tarantino that doesn't care about anything but having strong characters talk to one another. Every Tarantino movie always comes down to two characters staring one another in the eye, and having a showdown of wits. Tarantino is easily the best director of his generation that can make your stomach flip-flop and your breathing go irregular just from pages of dialogue.

Tarantino has had some doozies in his career, and watching Jamie Foxx's Django and Christoph Waltz' Dr. Schultz stare down Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie is some of the best cinema of 2012. Django is a deliriously well paced movie, with some career high acting for all involved. Jamie Foxx's character might be described as "unchained" in the title, but watching him ball up unkempt rage through the entire movie, belying his child-like ignorance of many aspects of the world, is invigorating. Christoph Waltz is so good here, as he was in Inglorious Basterds, that one wonders how in the hell he could have possibly gone this long without being in English-speaking movies. Frankly, he's a revelation, and I wouldn't care if he were in every one of Tarantino's movies from here on. And then there's DiCaprio, who has never been better, as a deliciously callous plantation owner, positively dripping with that Southern Gentleman charm; DiCaprio is clearly having way too much fun. Ditto Samuel Jackson as a cartoonish senior house negro, whose behind-closed-doors face is much more sinister. A friend of mine remarked "It's good to see Samuel L. Jackson actually acting again." I couldn't agree more.

Django Unchained is as much a gut-wrenching thriller as it is a hyper violent revenge fairy tale, and is almost Tarantino defined. It contains enough homages to spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation movies combined with ridiculous violence to satiate the 13 year old inside of him, but with the keen ear for dialogue and the driving interest in how real people would act in otherwise over-the-top situations (and, in the case of the climactic shootout before the final act, grotesquely over-the-top). It also features perhaps the most hilarious sequences on the idiocy of the Ku Klux Klan ever put to celluloid, as well as a reminder that, holy shit, Don Johnson is awesome. This isn't Tarantino's best-- that would be either Basterds or Pulp Fiction-- but it is Tarantino at the top of his craft.

with love from CRS @ 5:37 PM 


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