Or: Django…ma dimentica se puoi.
I love Tarantino’s movies, I really do. There are varying degrees of entertainment and stimuli I get out of them but there hasn’t one so far that caused me to say that I didn’t love it. I’m talking here only about the movies he’s directed, not the few additional ones he’s written (like True Romance which I love).
Just to be clear and to set the stage for what’s to come, I feel it necessary to go shortly through his movies, in the order in which I love them, from top to bottom. As anyone that is familiar with me will know, my favorite Tarantino film is, was and always will be Jackie Brown mainly because of the free reign the characters are given and how splendid the acting is and because of Pam Grier’s charisma. Next up is, of course, Death Proof – such a criminally underrated rollercoaster ride that only Kurt Russell could helm. Third, Kill Bill Volume 1, largely due to the music, the winks and nods (some more obvious than the others) to the Asian school of cinema. Fourth, Inglorious Basterds – one of those rare occasions when over-the-top sort-of-nazisplotation really worked. Fifth, Kill Bill Volume 2, another great example of character development although sometimes it loses steam. And tied for sixth place: Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Sure, Reservoir Dogs is his first feature film and his hand isn’t as steady as it was in the next movies but it does give a taste of things to come. As for Pulp Fiction, it truly is a wonderful movie but I feel I’ve been too over-exposed to it and that probably took some of its charm away.
Well, then, where does Django Unchained fit in? Obviously, I had such high expectations for it. After all, Tarantino couldn’t go wrong, right? Even though it came as a shock when I initially found out that it wouldn’t be the kind of Django movie I was thinking and/or hoping about – a balls-to-the wall western – and even though the trailer(s) for it where maddeningly underwhelming, I still had my hopes high.
When I got a hold of the soundtrack, my nervousness was somewhat tamed, if only slightly. A Tarantino film with Bacalov, Morricone and Riz Ortolani music? Sure, he did it before but, this is Django, right? The perfect place to use spaghetti western music, even though I would have preferred the Italian theme to Django to the English one but maybe I’m just nitpicking. To top it all off, we were supposed to get a new Morricone song which is always welcome, right? Well, unfortunately, Morricone’s new composition (Ancora Qui sung by a woman called Elisa) is downright awful: the vocals are all over the place, the singer sounding more like a braying mule and it’s a rather dull affair. Disappointing to say the least.
Still, I had my hopes up. Now, I won’t go into much detail about the movie’s plot but I’ll go into the minimum needed to have an idea of it: Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees Django (Jamie Foxx) from a life of slavery. As Dr. King is actually a bounty hunter, the two team up and start killing white outlaws, collecting money for each kill. Eventually, the two set out to free Django’s wife from Calvin Candie’s (Leonardo Di Caprio) plantation where we also meet Candie’s house slave, Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson.
So, that’s the barebones plot which should generally make for a blood-pumping revenge movie. Given that it’s also called Django Unchained, one would expect a western. Unfortunately, it’s not much of that. Sure, it has cowboys, shooting, spaghetti western music and horse riding but I did not perceive it as a western, strangely enough. It’s pretty much an out-and-out blaxploitation (a genre I find very entertaining, to say the least). Must be that my expectations were, once again, different as I was expecting something along the lines of the wonderful Boss Nigger or The Legend of Nigger Charlie, after seeing the trailers.
You might be wondering as to how much of Tarantino’s classic tropes and quirks are present here. Well, unfortunately, not many. There’s no moment that smacks you with its brilliance like Inglorious Basterd’s prologue or like Kill Bill Volume 2’s ending. There’s nothing that really stands out. Not even the violence (which is as cartoonish as expected) helps to save this tedious mess. Add to that the boring dialogues that try to be amusing and that try to be smart but they catastrophically fail.
The acting is a very mixed bag – I did appreciate Franco Nero’s cameo but for the others, Jamie Foxx usually just frowns a lot, Cristoph Waltz is repeating his Inglorious Basterds role somewhat but this time around he’s very tiresome. Leonardo Di Caprio is somewhat of a highlight as he is allowed to be a bit more unstrained, while Samuel L. Jackson is just doing his Samuel L. Jackson routine with mixed results.
Sadly, it’s all rather flaccid, flat and restrained. It’s not provocative and it’s not ballsy, it’s much too long for its own good and it doesn’t have the edge nor the dark humor Tarantino’s other movies have. It would seem that he has lost most of his touch which is a sad place to be in, not only for him but for his viewers who write psychotic reviews in the middle of the night that are never proof-read (that being me, of course) and that are still hoping that this is a one-off and that Kill Bill Volume 3 will not be the disappointment Django Unchained was.