Tarantino is clearly an adoring fan of the spaghetti westerns of old, and has made no secret of this in the past. This time, he finally tries his hand at it, and for me the results were pretty satisfying, although I would hesitate to slap the “masterpiece” label on it as so many people have done. Once again he has made a long film populated by almost comic levels of blood, whip-smart dialogue and memorable performances. He takes on the slave trade much as Django himself does, though his methods are a bit more subtle. I realize Tarantino and subtlety don’t go hand-in-hand, but what I mean is that his barbs at the absurdity of the time period are less vicious than Django’s murderous ways, but still clearly front-and-center.
It’s a slow-burn revenge story, as Django becomes a free man early in the story, thanks to a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. The irony of a German character freeing a slave under the name Dr King is NOT lost on me. But as I said, Quentin isn’t usually the subtle type. The two set off to find a gang of outlaws that Schultz is seeking rewards for, and in return he will help Django find his wife, lost amongst the slave trade. Moral lines are crossed again and again, but in the 1850’s American south, this was commonplace. When they eventually find their way to the Candyland plantation (owned by Leonardo DiCaprio, turning in another great performance), things get very interesting.
Of course, an epic bloodbath ensues as part of the climax, and genitals are shot off cause, well, Quentin likes that stuff. I was a bit thrown by the soundtrack at times, as it felt almost like pandering to the audience to see Foxx shooting up a plantation in slo-mo to rap music, but then again, it’s not my story to tell. It just felt a bit weird and momentarily took me out of the scene. However, a revenge tale should have the main character(s) story played out in such a way that you are just as ready for the eventual comeuppance as they are, and in that respect I think the film excelled. Django has to play a part he’s not proud of for the sake of the long-term goal, and I appreciated his willingness to wade into some murky waters to achieve his goal. I wasn’t expecting much in the way or moral gray areas in a story such as this, but there was some to be found. That’s the stuff I think actors can really dig into and help to provide a better story with a more powerful payoff.
All in all, I’m glad I finally caught up with Tarantino’s work, although for his modern films I have to say The Hateful Eight was better, in my opinion. And man oh man, does Christolph Waltz ever seem to have a BLAST when he’s reading a Tarantino script!