A good/bad film you might just love/hate.
I saw this the other night and did enjoy it. However, I am truly a Tarantino fan boy and have a deep appreciation of his particular style of good/bad movie making. He writes intriguing characters and situations better than anyone else, and then delivers them without any excess dross to gum up the movie experience. However, he has a deep appreciation of camp that, for someone who thinks camp is a sign of bad movie making, can really hurt the film for the wrong person.
The good news is that, camp aside every part of this film is more or less flawlessly executed. The acting is all around brilliant, the story very interesting (think good comic book origin story without the super powers), and the camera work perfect. In all ways an extremely good example of what filming should be about.
Of course, if I am going to review this film I should address the elephant in the room, the prolific use of the dreaded “N” word. I will say it was used with great frequency. It first it was off putting, then it started to sound a lot like a three year old learning a dirty word and yelling out incessantly, but by the end of the movie I started to see what (I believe) Tarantino was going for with this. You see, this movie more than anything else tries to show the cruelty and dehumanization of the slave trade in the Antebellum South (albeit in a remarkably cartoonish, over the top style. Something of Quentin’s signature, I guess). If you feel you have not felt enough guilt in your life for being Caucasian this film will help you with that. The point is the N word is used with such frequency and in such a workaday manner that it really help illustrate how ingrained and natural the racism really was (and some might say, still is). The characters in this film used it the ease and natural cadence as one today would use the word man or woman, and that successfully drove the racism point home with all the subtlety of a machete used for brain surgery.
It wouldn’t be one of my reviews if I didn’t find something to bitch about, and fortunately there is stuff for me to latch on to. The plot Django and Dr. Schultz cook up by the end of the film to buy Django’s wife out of slavery is needlessly complicated and outright stupid. The whole time they were crafting this elaborate ruse I was thinking “Couldn’t they have just ridden up to the house and offered a large sum of money?” That’s pretty much what I would have done. A lot of time is spent setting things up, which in a lesser movie I would have called plodding and slow paced. Also, while I really liked the Dr. Schultz and Calvin Candie characters, I felt the Django character was really simple and two dimensional. He spend most of the film as a moving plot point with guns. No real depth to him.
Spoilers coming up, so if you want to avoid them skip ahead five paragraphs.
The story is of young Django (Jamie Foxx-Miami Vice, Law Abiding Citizen, Horrible Bosses. I couldn’t find an image of Jamie Foxx as Detective Tubbs, but this great image comes courtesy of the TV Show T Shirt category), a slave in the South two years prior to the Civil War. He is on a coffle traveling somewhere under the control of two with trash morons when they come across the wagon of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz-Inglorious Basterds, Water for Elephants, Carnage), a wandering dentist and bounty hunter. Schultz wants Django to help him identify three bounties. He frees Django and the rest of the coffle (with the first of many rated R bloodbaths) and sets off after the guys.
Schultz determines that Django has a talent for bounty hunting and offers him a job helping out for the winter, after which he will help to find Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington-Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Last King of Scotland, Ray, and hopefully one day staring as the bride at my future wedding. What a heartbreaker). After a colorful montage of bounty hunting scenes they hare off to find Broomhilda. In short order they determine that she has been bought by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio-Titanic, Inception, Shutter Island), one of the wealthiest landowners in Mississippi. He is not by nature written as a cruel man (relative to the others around him) and is in his own way a very intriguing character, although some of his actions during the film really put me off my feed.
At this point IMO the story falls off the rails for a while. Rather than ride up to the Candie Manor and offer $1,000 for a slave Candie paid $300 for they develop this amazing long and complicated plot to trick Candie out of her. I swear it made the Usual Suspects look like Legally Blonde. They are posing as investors in some kind of slave fight arena (think a more horrible version of dog fighting, if that is possible) and want to spend a ton of money buying one of Candie’s best fighters. Somehow they are going to get Broomhilda for tuppence during the course of this facade.
This plot is ruined by Candies clever head house slave Steven (played brilliantly by Samuel L Jackson-Pulp Fiction, the Incredibles, Jackie Brown. We won’t talk about his Mace Windu years) and instead of getting her for the $1,000 they could probably have gotten going they spend $12,000 on her. At that point the deal falls apart mainly due to Schultz being unable to shake Candie’s hand and the whole movie ends in a huge bloodbath.
The stars. Good film in almost all regards. One black hole. A film that for the first time in a long time takes on something more complicated than the usual dross. One star. All the stars were brilliant, and their characters really intriguing. Three stars. Dialog was spot on. One star. Nice message delivered to America. One star. All around fun movie. Two stars. Total: nine stars.
The black holes. Needlessly complicated end plot. One black hole. Run time seemed long at 165 minutes. A stronger hand on the editing would have tightened things up a lot I think. One black hole. Total: two black holes.
By the way, I spotted what I think is a huge technical error but Tarantino is such an accomplished filmmaker I can only assume he did it on purpose. In one of the gunfights towards the end all the guys stop shooting and you can here a brass casing bounce off the ground like you do in pretty much 100% of all modern gun fights. The thing is they were all using revolvers, which don’t eject brass. I supposed an argument could be made that it was a repeating rifle, but that wasn’t really developed until 1860 and this film took place in 1858. Either Tarantino is having a laugh at it, or he should fire his Foley editor. (This last passage is conclusive proof that I am a nerd, BTW)
A total of seven stars, and a big thumbs up from me. I’d put this move on the same level as Inglorious Basterds, but not as good as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. Definitely worth seeing, and if you want to have fun see it like I did in a theater that was literally 99% liberal white people and watch them squirm at all the racial abuse going on the screen. Date movie? Probably not. Violent and gory, and there is a dog mauling scene that will ruin canines for you for life. Bathroom break? The best part IMO is the long ride they all take out to Candieland. I’d say from the moment Schultz joins Candie on the buggy you have a good 3-4 minutes of not a lot happening.
Thanks for reading. Look for my review of Jack Reacher tomorrow. I need time to figure out a clever enough subtitle for such an epically mediocre movie. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. Feel free to post comments here on this movie or my review. Off topic questions or suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy New Year, and I’ll talk to you soon.
P.S. Look for my 2012 movie recap coming soon. Still looking for a clever name for my awards. So far all I have is “Nerdies” and I think that blows. Any suggestions will be seriously considered.