At which point in his career did Quentin Tarantino turn into such a pussy filmmaker? That’s a question I started to ask myself by the end of the 2nd Act of Django Unchained. I kept wondering to myself…how much more daring…and how much of a mind fuck would this film have been if it was made in the early 90’s during his Pulp Fiction days? At that time he was a young filmmaker with nothing to lose, who could not only shock people and make them laugh, but rattle their cages. He was much angrier and had something important to say then. And watching Django, I kept waiting for one of those moments to happen. I wanted to be startled…I wanted to laugh at the sheer “What the fuck just happened” moments created by the film. But I felt none of that. Everything that was meant to startle people in the film was completely calculated. Tarantino pulls all of his usual tricks, and when watching this “homage” to blacksploitation films, I kept thinking a movie like Blazing Saddles has more balls than this.
Seriously! I’m pissed just thinking about the amount of blatent ego on display in Tarantino’s last few movies. The guy doesn’t tell visionary stories anymore. He’s making superhero movies now. Kill Bill, Inglorious Bastards, and now Django Unchained, which plays up a fantasy that‘s almost pornographic in its use of violence, and he never uses that violence to cut into the audience and tell a story that has any meaning. Tarantino plays all the cards right to make it look like he’s shocking us. But he plays it completely safe. Step back and look at what happens in the film. The white man who helps and mentors Django is not an American. He’s a German, also an outsider with different beliefs regarding slavery. There were actually white Americans who lived then who didn‘t agree with slavery. I suppose the thought was if Django’s mentor was a white American it would have been much more of an ego trip. But that’s the point, his mentor is on an ego trip about rescuing black men. When the pivitol scene for him occurs later in the film, where Django stops him from buying the black slave so he can watch the slave be torn up by dogs, and Django can show him what’s done to his people, his mentor should have been an American. It would have had a heavier impact, and it would have tested his ego. That moment would have meant far more. But as a German, he’s an outsider as Django. So what is that moment really supposed to mean?
In his journey, Django‘s actions have almost no serious consequences. You’ll notice that every time it looks a villain character is going to do something shocking and horrific to fuck with Django, that character is always stopped at the last minute. Dicaprio shows how he’s going to bash Django’s wifes brains in with a hammer. He’s stopped. At the beginning of the Third Act when Django is hanging upside down naked and the white man is about to cut Django’s balls off, he’s stopped. Tarantino keeps teasing us throughout the film, and then pulls back. And you know, if you want to hear my honest opinion, the white guy should have cut Django’s balls off. Scar him. He doesn’t have to cut off his dick, but take away his manhood. Because quite honestly if that had happened, and the final shoot out occurs where Django is blowing white guys away, it would have actually meant something. Furious rage and anger. And then Django blowing the white dudes nuts off at the end would have actually had some meaning to it. But it doesn’t. Django is out for blood, but we never see him become truly scarred to warrant any meaning out of his blood lust. And what about Django’s wife being pulled out of the hot box stark naked? Tarantino just cuts to close ups of her. We don’t see her fully naked and get the shock of her humiliation. Dicaprio later wants to humiliate her in the dinner scene and make her strip to show the scars on her back, but again, we just see her backside. Tarantino never really goes there to full out show the dehumanization of blacks. He’s constantly holding back. In pissing Django off, how many times is the audience teased that he’ll pull his gun, only to have him put it away? By the time the third act came, I realized at that point that nothing dangerous or scarring was going to happen to any of the characters for the rest of the film, and it was just a matter of waiting for it to end.
As a villain, DiCaprio is completely wasted. Again, Tarantino really gives us no big reason to hate him. Even in the scene where the black slave is torn to shreds by dogs, it’s Django’s decision that allows it to happen, not DiCaprio’s. DiCaprio is not threatening at all. And Leonardo DiCaprio just by himself does not inspire fear in me. He doesn’t even die at the hands of Django, the German kills him. And the “handshake” scene between them is just stupid. Why are we waiting for DiCaprio to do something when it’s the German who acts on it? It’s completely forced with almost no meaning behind both their deaths. By the end of the film, the final standoff is between Django and an old black man (played by Samuel L. Jackson). So let me get this straight… a movie about a black man getting revenge on white people ends with a final standoff between two black men, and the other is a black man who is too old and crippled to really defend himself. What exactly is this end scene saying?
There was also not enough reason for me to care about Django’s love for his wife. When they finally met in the middle of the second act, we saw almost no personal interaction between them. They had very few scenes where they actually had a “moment”. And those moments of humiliation with her are too tame for us to really care about her. I felt no investment in them, or anyone else, because nothing ever really happens to anyone in this film. His wife is just a princess in a tower waiting to be rescued. What’s the worst that could have happened? Well, what if Dicaprio smashed her brains in. What if Django had his balls cut off. How much more drive would he have to kill every white man in sight? How much more would the thirst for revenge be? Not just a black mans revenge, but his human side that shows the darkness in him and his loss for humanity? He’s a black man who earns his keep killing white people. But nothing about what he does ever really fucks with him. The film doesn’t even touch on that. It doesn’t dare go there, and the end product to me just feels phony. And a bit cowardly I might add.
I know what I’m going to hear about this. The film is supposed to be a homage and a play on blacksploitation films. But we don’t need that nostalgia shit in movies anymore. We need better storytelling with serious consequences in our storytelling. Those consequences will MAKE US CARE! They’ll make us sit up and take it seriously. The audience I was with, sure, they laughed at all the right moments. But there was no shocked reactions. There was no wild enthusiasim. And by the end there was tepid applause for Quentin Tarantino’s name. That was it. But sadly Tarantino is not out to take risks anymore. He has his built in audience, and he doesn’t want to lose or offend any of them. Why else would he cast the least threatening white actor you can find (Leonardo DiCaprio) to play your main villain? Or cast Samuel L. Jackson, whose persona from his other films in my mind overshadowed his performance in this. He’s playing Samuel Jackson as a slave. Get someone more unknown. I swear to you this movie pussyfoots around for three hours. Where’s the anger to justify the violence? There isn’t any. None of it’s meant to be taken seriously, and all we’re left with is one big joke.
Okay, rant over. As you can see, I get a little batshit crazy when I see filmmakers who once had such a strong influence and gave us things we never saw before instead just start riding on their reputation. But that’s what I see happening here. Quenitin doesn’t really want to offend anybody, especially his target audience. There’s a lot of talking as usual and a lot of grand speeches made by his characters. But he’s just selling his brand of filmmaking now. He makes fantasy films with a lot of gratuitous violence. And that’s pretty depressing.