(directed by Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
****+ (out of 5 stars)
> Quentin Tarantino does it again. Whatever one may think of his pulpy, derivative extremely graphic ethic, you gotta give the man his props for writing consistently outrageous and entertaining screenplays. (RESOVOIR DOGS! PULP FICTION! KILL BILL! INGLORIOUS BASTERDS! and now: DJANGO!)
. From the opening strains of the campy Morricone inspired theme song, we know we’re in for a good time, and because it’s Tarantino, we know we will visit familiar territory in altogether new ways. Nowhere near as universally violent as its gory trailer would suggest, DJANGO is big entertainment from start to finish. After hearing much criticism of the repeated use of what we now euphemistically call “the N word”, I did not find it as gratuitous in context as Spike Lee did. (Perhaps he is just sick and tired of white folks making films about the black experience in America. I get that.) In every case, the ugly word was used as a cultural signpost: to remind us of the constant degradation and absolute disempowerment of our kidnapped African “guest workers” of the time, and the internalization of the epithet by the population it has been used against.
. As in all Tarantino films, the supporting cast is uniformly excellent, and the script deserving of the Oscar it won the wonky director. Jamie Foxx is perfectly cast in the central role, and he fills every frame with hero bravado. Again, it’s a revenge story: Former slave is bought by a German bounty hunter to help identify his next targets. Under his tutelage, Django becomes the fastest gun in the west, setting out on a quest to rescue his stolen wife. Leonardo DiCaprio gleefully chews up the scenery as the truly nasty southern plantation master who keeps her in predictably cruel conditions. Samuel L. Jackson could not have been better as the “house nigger” who is so habituated to his elevated status that he has gotten Stockholm Syndrome, and begun to identify with his oppressor- what some may call an “Uncle Tom” character. (Quite a role for a fiercely proud actor like Mr. Jackson to play, and he is excellent in every scene he occupies. Man, can this guy modulate his sonorous voice!) And Christoph Waltz (again, as in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) earns his supporting actor prize with a delicious performance that teeters on the giddy. (Thank you, Mr. Tarantino, for bringing this absolutely delightful character to our attention!) As always, the soundtrack is an important ingredient. Tarantino soundtracks are always evocative. One of my only criticisms of DJANGO: when the song choice veered into popular music of a later era than slave times, the anachronism did not serve to enhance the experience for me, but rather drew me out of it- the cognitive dissonance of it reminding me that I was sitting in a theater watching a movie. (Jim Croce? Tupac Shakur? This jumbling of timeframes didn’t work for me in A KNIGHT’S TALE or MOULAN ROUGE and it doesn’t work here.)
. Sure, these pointed cultural spoofs of Tarantino’s aren’t for everybody, but mark me a fan. As long as they are this much unbridled fun, he’s got my attention! Scenes like the one in which a hooded mob argues about the low quality of their hoods are so damn funny they will always elicit laughter, as sure as MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. (“I fart in your general direction!”)
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