Django Unchained (2012)


*. I hated this movie. But hate takes many different forms. So here are two of the forms it takes.
*. In the first place, it was a waste. A waste of talent, a big budget, and high production value.
*. Did it take Quentin Tarantino to make this movie? But then, how good a movie is Tarantino even capable of making now? How did he turn into one of Hollywood’s least interesting directors?
*. In the second place, it was overhyped. Box office is one thing, but why did so many critics roll over for this movie? I didn’t find it entertaining, original, or funny at all. And yet a lot of mainstream reviewers gave it perfect scores and put it on their “best of the year” lists.
*. Those are the reasons I hated it. But they are ultimately based on my feeling that it just isn’t any good.
*. You know you’re in trouble when what you liked most about a re-make was a theme song lifted from the original. The rest of the movie’s music (some of it contemporary) seemed artificial to me, and there were too many scenes where the action stops and we go into music video mode.
*. Was the Klan (or “Regulator”) stuff supposed to be funny? I thought Mel Brooks did this material better. I was wincing throughout this part.
*. The whole thing is so conventional it aches. So many predictable sequences, stuck into a set formula. The standard action-film story of bloody vengeance. You knew Django was going to get caught and tied up and beaten and then escape and come back and kill everyone, right? No need for a spoiler alert there. Then he blows up the house and rides off with his woman. Right.
*. Making the conventionality of it worse is the running time. 165 minutes. Fuck. For a movie that doesn’t surprise you once? Or that even tries to surprise you? DiCaprio and Waltz both make their exits with half an hour to go!
*. I suppose the argument could be made that, as an homage to a series of films that were, aside from the first one, complete jokes, criticism has its limits. But this movie isn’t even campy, or self-consciously bad.
*. DiCaprio is fine, but again: did the movie need an actor like him to play such a villain? The bar is set so low with type characters.
*. Samuel L. Jackson as Uncle Tom is a nice touch (one of the few). Otherwise, I get tired of exercises in pop morality that take on Nazis (Inglourious Bastards) or racists in the antebellum South. This isn’t taking risks, and the movie gets no extra points from me for being “about” slavery. Aside from the numerous period details that are wrong, how is Tarantino “revisioning” history in these movies?
*. I like Jamie Foxx, but there’s no chemistry at all between him and Kerry Washington.
*. Wow, is that Siegfried/Brunhilde (or, as she’s rendered here, “Broomhilda”) analogy ever laboured. And drawn in so wearily (Jamie Foxx asking to be told the story by campfire). And in the end it isn’t even relevant.
*. I know we’re supposed to like Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Schultz, but I found him insufferably smug and self-righteous. Which in turn gave rise to some awkward feelings.
*. Roxane Gay: “What struck me most, sitting there in that theatre, was how Django Unchained was a white man’s slavery revenge fantasy, and one in which white people figure heavily and where black people are, largely, incidental. Django is allowed to regain his dignity because he is freed by a white man. He reunites with his wife, again, with the help of a white man. Django Unchained isn’t about a black man reclaiming his freedom. It’s about a white man working through his own racial demons and white guilt.” I think this is fair.
*. Hitch’s cameos weren’t as intrusive as Tarantino’s. And he may have been a better actor. The business of Django’s escape from the Dickey Mining Company is ridiculous and just something the plot makes us sit through until the hero can go get his revenge.
*. I was so unimpressed I missed the post-credit sequence. I’m not a big fan of these. I don’t usually sit through a full credit roll and I don’t like feeling like I’m being tricked into doing so.


*. The action sequences are formulaic and prolonged. I also prefer exploding squibs of blood to CGI. CGI in a western seems out of place. But then even the dynamite here is anachronistic.
*. Did you see how Django shoots the guy who threatened to cut off his balls, in the balls! Bet you didn’t see that coming! Talk about poetic justice! You can cheer and laugh at the same time!
*. So typical of Hollywood in this era. Beautiful art direction and production design, but completely empty, derivative, and conventional.

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