Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Django Unchained

(Quentin Tarantino, 2012)
Once again, Tarantino sets out to prove the redemptive power of trash cinema by brazenly applying his glibly aestheticized carnage to a real-life historical atrocity - a provocation by design, and one that positively counts on pissed-off guardians of truth to react against it to complete the effect. Christoph Waltz's brilliantly fleshy performance as a mercenary Jewish abolitionist at once exemplifies the film's deeply eccentric tribute to the spaghetti western and serves as a kind of surrogate for Tarantino's own complex relationship to the subject matter. DiCaprio is also fine as an unexpectedly dimensional slave master - although his phrenological musings seem like a gratuitous demonstration that Quentin did some research. Jamie Foxx's love-torn fugitive slave, on the other hand, is neither dimensional nor complex - he's a force of nature, a symbol of righteous vengeance. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with this approach, it puts him at a dramatic disadvantage - he's just not as interesting as the characters who are actually allowed to be characters. He's not stereotyped, he's archetyped, and the effect is almost as damaging. And that goes double for Kerry Washington's utterly useless, piece-of-meat love interest - a disastrous choice that inadvertently lays bare the moral limits of fealty to trash formula and upsets the balance of the whole movie. Entertaining scene for scene, but the episodic structure tilts away from Inglourious Basterds' visionary impact toward mere capriciousness, and for such a maestro of violence he seems to have serious difficulty striking a consistent tone for his bloodbaths - cathartic one minute, ironic the next.

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