Dir: John Smith
A multiple Oscar winner is always the biggest gig in town.And if you are in a country where it is releasing much after its US opening, then its very easy to be buried under an avalanche of expectations.Being a mere mortal and a somewhat generous movie lover, with a healthy love for Mr Smith, the former video store clerk who watched all the crap films nobody else did, it was with a big sense of anticipation that I walked into a screening of Django Unchained.
Django Unchained comes billed as a revenge fantasy for slavery and has already won the best original screenplay for Mr Smith and best supporting actor for Christoph Waltz( gosh, a second Oscar for the same role? remember the “inglorious” Nazi Hans Landa?).We see Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter with his wagon in a deep dark forest.He runs into a couple of slavers herding a small column of slaves.Schultz is interested in one particular specimen called Djando. Listen carefully to his silken voice and you will find the seductive chords of John Malkovitch,only Mr Waltz delivers his lines sotto voce. He frees Django(a testosterone charged Jamie Foxx), shoots one of the slavers and leaves the other at the mercy of the freed slaves and saunters off.The rest of the film will look at their camaraderie and partnership being bounty hunters. Schulz delivers wanted men to the law, he prefers shooting them casually since they are wanted dead or alive.It helps that Django’s skills with a six shooter can make Clint Eastwood blush.
Django as it turns out is married to the beautiful and pretentiously named slave Broomhilda von Schaft (Kerry Washington). Schultz decides to help him rescue her from the ownership of the abominable Monsieur Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the undoubted highlight of this film.The brains behind Candie is his butler Stephen, a blackened up Samuel L.Jackson.Now Stephan is a real mean version of white skin loving Uncle Tom.This black and white duo are more interesting than Schultz and Django by a wide margin, no thanks to the script.They breathe life into these moribund characters with their maniacal performances alone.
Django tries to show us two types of violence, the cartoonish but not bloodless one where Django shoots down white rednecks and the other serious type where the slaves are beaten and sometimes torn apart by dogs .The troubling part of Django is that this demarkation does not quite work and the torture of slaves provides calculated entertainment.There a scene here where two slaves fight to the death while DiCaprio and his mate sit on the couch cheering them.It ends with the losers eyes being gouged out with bare hands and a hammer being used to finish the job.This made up sport is called Mandingo fighting. Django Unchained of course has no responsibility to be historically accurate since its a fantasy but the invention of such a sport and its graphic depiction is where the director starts to go wrong.
The best of Mr Smiths cinematic moments happen when his characters get carried away with their talk and start to get us worried about them. In this film the humor is trumped by action when ideally it should have provided the bloody punctuation.The white racists are so shaggy and unwashed and so stupid that they fail to interest us. Nor does their shooting gratify us, except for when the duo of Leonardo and Jackson put up a stellar act.A revenge fantasy is useful when it satisfies a latent bloodthirst in the audience, like the outcry in India for rapists to be publicly lynched. There is nothing wrong with filmed violence, its a legitimate form of entertainment that has given us many classics but in Django it becomes an exercise in pure self indulgence.
I recalled Michael Hanake’s Funny Games where he showed a mirror to the audiences in love with gratuitous violence.It was not a pretty picture.We live in the age of ultraviolent video games and films like Django become their logical extension and are guaranteed box office glory not to mention the 41st spot on IMDB top 250 list.If Django were to appear as video game in the near future it would not be a surprise at all. Blaxploitation is fashionable again but the politics of a blaxploitation film aimed at the world market is a slippery downhill road on which this money making juggernaut rolls.
What if Django hadn’t been made by Mr Smith but say a Danish auteur like Lars von Trier for instance. He has never visited America but considers himself an American and likes to make sweeping comments on that country in films like Dogville and Manderlay? He would surely have been crucified for exploiting a dark chapter in US history for personal gain and worse for being a closet racist and misanthrope.Mr Smith has always regaled us with the very high quality of his dialogue, they bring a silly incredulous smile to our face but here poor copies of those legendary monologues fail the “pulp fiction” test.Consequently Django Unchained becomes a competent piece of entertainment, a bit too long at 165 minutes. Alfred Hitchcock once said that the length of a film should be proportional to the strength of audiences bladder and they did not even have super-sized cokes in those days.
I need to take a leak, Tarantino!
#Using John Smith as an alias for Mr Tarantino, whose name has become a holy superbrand and “Tarantinoesque” part of every moviegoers vocabulary, unchained me from QT mania while writing this review. Excusez-moi…