It pains me to say it, but Django Unchained is a mess. Now I love Tarantino. I’ve seen every film he’s made or written, and made sure I ran the first UK cover on Pulp Fiction (shot by Rankin, left). But I’m baffled as to why Django is currently ranked on IMDB.com as the 39th best film of all time.
Where is the narrative economy of Reservoir Dogs? The quotable dialogue of Pulp Fiction? The intricacy of Jackie Brown? The visual panache of Kill Bill? The sheer chutzpah of Inglorious Basterds, with its ending that dares defy history itself?
I’ll steer clear of describing Django’s plot, for the sake of those who haven’t yet seen it. But I will say that, to its detriment, Django is two separate films: one starring Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, the other starring Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L Jackson. The first is a harrowingly acted and searing tale of slavery and retribution; the second is an arch, deliberately over-acted, almost camp piece of stylised hokum. The combination is not merely jarring but faintly nauseating, like salt sprinkled on breakfast cereal.
Other disappointments include the lack of a strong female character, which Tarantino usually delivers. Kerry Washington is given nothing to do here but suffer, snivel and, at the end, simper. You might also wish that, having borrowed the famous doorway shot from The Searchers for Inglorious Basterds and the music of Ennio Morricone for Django, Tarantino could have used more of the wide-screen Spaghetti Western cinematography that we glimpse in a few snowy mountain sequences.
Perhaps it was too much to hope that Tarantino could revivify, let alone reinvent, the Western. Leaving the cinema, my underwhelmed son said: “I don’t get Westerns. Why are they important?”
They’re the creation myth of modern America. They’re a Cinemascope symphony of space and light that cannot be reduced to the small screen. They’re an existential test of honour in the face of death, a chance to see if a man’s really gonna do what a man’s gotta do.
The Western gave Star Wars its format, and with it the elevation in the last 35 years of science-fiction from a low-budget cult genre into one of the dominant forms of mass entertainment. And what was Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time, if not a Western with blue skins rather than red?
Django, sadly, won’t be rebirthing any genres. To use a cooking analogy, Tarantino is usually a master at combining unexpected ingredients. But whereas Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were hardboiled to perfection, and Kill Bill was sharp as a sushi knife and tangy as wasabi sauce, Django is a thoroughly overcooked Spaghetti Western: soggy, limp and hard to stomach.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a Comment below.