Chet Greason, Popcornucopia
The release of a new Quentin Tarantino movie is one of those things you wait for. They mark off the decades like waypoints. He’s not the most prolific director out there, but when he does make a movie, you know you’re in for a film that looks, sounds, and plays out like no others being made in Hollywood. For a film buff. that’s something to look forward to.
Django Unchained, stylistically, could be described as one of Tarantino’s more run-of-the-mill flicks, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Quentin, long renowned for his ability to write engaging, pop-infused dialogue, was getting carried away. His films were getting wordier and wordier, Death Proof being the worst offender. Even Inglourious Basterds had a long treatise on pre-WWII German cinema.
Luckily, Django Unchained is a Western, or more accurately, a Southern. Set prior to the American Civil War, it predates even the Lumiere Brothers, so Tarantino doesn’t have the opportunity to show us how much he knows about this era in film.
Instead, Django fills the space with action, action, action. It’s as though he took a cue from the popular comparison of Kill Bill parts 1 & 2; heard the audience complain that the epic peaked in the centre, and said, “Alright...you like cartoonish amounts of arcing red blood? Done.”
The soundtrack, too, makes Django unique. Original songs that yodel out the names of the protagonists against a whistling refrain flank the heroes’ introductions like the spaghetti westerns of old. It’s a nice touch.
Of course, great films breed controversy. Some, like Spike Lee or Tavis Smiley, implied that a Tarantino-style fictional redemption for the descendants of American slaves, in the same vein as QT did with European Jews in Inglourious Basterds, was not asked for or needed, which is a fair enough stance to take...so long as they recognize that Tarantino, in turn, doesn’t have to ask their permission to make this film. As all great storytellers know, some of the best stories are revenge stories, and the best revenge stories have underdogs as protagonists. What better underdog is there than someone who holds no more entitlement in the eyes of the law than a cow?
Making Django allows Tarantino to do a number of things: He can illustrate the maddeningly brutal climate suffered by blacks under slavery. He can, by means of self-deprecation on behalf of white Americans, offer a sort of apology by fully recognizing they were the villains (case in point, the one heroic white character is German). And, while he’s doing all of this, he can entertain. That’s something historical apologists consistently forget to do.