Tarantino, Unhinged 

Slave-era revenge fantasy Django Unchained goes wayward.

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx

The worst moment of Quentin Tarantino's film career came in his best film. It was when, in Pulp Fiction, Tarantino cast himself as a some sort of mid-level crime-world figure who chastises a Jheri-curled Samuel L. Jackson, whose professional hitman was trying to dispose of a body: "Does this look like dead n**ger storage?" Tarantino asks.

Tarantino's new spaghetti-western/blaxploitation-mashup revenge fantasy Django Unchained uses that racial pejorative perhaps more rampantly than any mainstream American film, but this time the usage comes with more deliberate and arguably righteous intent — as a historically accurate signifier of ignorance and brutishness.

Django Unchained is something of a spiritual/thematic sequel to Tarantino's last film, Inglourious Basterds, which imagined an alternate history where Jews hunt Nazi scalps and take out Adolf Hitler. I didn't have a problem with Tarantino's irreverent approach to the provocative material or his embrace of violent retribution there, and I don't here. But I did have modest issues with Basterds on pure filmmaking grounds, and I have more such qualms with Django.

Basterds breakout star Christoph Waltz is Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter in the American South and West in the years just before the Civil War. In an opening set piece, Schultz accosts two slave traders in the woods and "acquires" one of their property, Django (Jamie Foxx), whom he wants to use to identify three wanted men who had been overseers on the plantation where Django and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), had been captive.

"For the time being, I'm going to make this slavery malarky work to my benefit," Schultz tells Django, who agrees to partner with him for a cut of the bounties before being officially set free. "Killing white people for money? What's not to like?" Django later explains.

Waltz and Foxx make for an enjoyable buddy team, their early, episodic exploits peaking when Django, posing as Schultz' freed-man valet, takes a whip to a plantation overseer in front of a group of slaves. These journeys culminate in a trip to Mississippi, where Schultz and Django have hatched a plan to rescue Broomhilda from servitude on the plantation owned by "Mandingo-fighting" enthusiast Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and run, in part, by his loyal house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson, fully committed).

In a film culture that still generally hails a monstrosity like Gone With the Wind as an unambiguous classic, Django Unchained turns plantation owners and overseers and night riders into lazy brutes worthy of scorn and ridicule (especially in an extended comic bit partly derived from Blazing Saddles) without shortchanging their danger. DiCaprio's Calvin Candie might be a deliciously villainous Colonel Reb caricature, but slaveholders deserve no better, and Tarantino digs beneath his cartoon veneer in the uncomfortable depiction of how Candie uses his slaves for sport fighting — and how he treats them when they refuse to fight.

But Tarantino's deeper concern for grindhouse homage than historical corrective gets the best of him in the end. Django's style — quick zooms, extreme close-ups, expectedly unexpected music cues — is rampant, but individual scenes and sequences generally lack the snap of even Inglourious Basterds, much less Tarantino's best work. While his concept and casting are deeply intriguing, Tarantino's actual direction has perhaps never been this limp. And the last, listlessly bloody half hour of this 165-minute opus is a chore. Early in the film, Tarantino finds a perfect image of poetic irreverence when a dead overseer's blood splatters red on a field of white cotton. In the end, however, he lacks the maturity to maintain a tone that pointed or nervy.

Django Unchained
Opening Tuesday, December 25th
Multiple locations

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Speaking of Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained
Rated R · 165 min. · 2012
Official Site: unchainedmovie.com
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone and Stacey Sher
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx, Zoe Bell, James Remar, Don Johnson, Franco Nero and Walton Goggins

Now Playing

Django Unchained is not showing in any theaters in the area.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

    • What Men Want

      Taraji P. Henson deserves better than this
    • The Kid Who Would Be King

      Director Joe Cornish presents a feel-good take on the legend of King Arthur
    • Oxford Film Festival 2019

      The annual event brings diverse, hard hitting cinema to Mississippi


Tiger Blue

Tigers 102, Tulane 76

Fly On The Wall Blog

Hail Caesar: Gannett Papers Announce Changes in Opinion Strategy

News Blog

City Prepares for Heavy Rains, Flash Floods

News Blog

Russell Sugarmon: 1929-2019

News Blog

Study: Switch From TVA Power Could Save Up To $333M

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Impala


More by Chris Herrington

  • Last Words

    In "Enough Said," James Gandolfini makes his last lead film role his best.
    • Sep 26, 2013
  • Masters of Sound

    New albums from two of Memphis’ most distinctive stylists.
    • Sep 19, 2013
  • Hayes Carll at the Hi-Tone

    • Sep 19, 2013
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • Logan Lucky

    Steven Soderbergh Roars Out Of Retirement With A Star Studded Heist Film
    • Aug 24, 2017
© 1996-2019

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation