Saturday, December 29, 2012

Django Unchained

All I wanted for Christmas was a new Quentin Tarantino movie. Isn't it great when your wishes come true?

You know I love Quentin. (And if you don't know that, you don't know me at all.) You probably know that I love him even more as a writer than as a director. Maybe you even know that it's because of QT that I decided to try writing. For real. "Reservoir Dogs" inspired me that much. Since then, after working at it and trying to improve, I have definitely realized that I will never be nearly as good a writer as he is. But that's okay, because not many are.

If you're interested in "Django," you'll read other reviews to get the full plot recap and insight into details by Western aficionados that I can't give you. I don't dislike westerns, but other than Butch & Sundance, Gary Cooper, and, of course, Clint Eastwood, I don't have vast experience with the genre. But that's part of the beauty here in Django. Even though I'm sure I'm missing out on some lovely homage turns, I never felt lost. In fact, maybe it helped make it seem fresher. I'm not sure. But I can tell you this about the film: It's not as visually gorgeous as "Inglorious Basterds," but I don't know how it could be given that westerns demand an overall dusty and gritty landscape. Other than sunsets and mountain backgrounds, you just won't find deep and lush colors abundant in this genre, with the notable exception of Tarantino blood red.

Tarantino has already become as dependable as Scorsese for pulling amazing performances from his cast, and "Django" rises to this reputation. Jackson, DiCaprio, and Waltz are absolutely mesmerizing. And Jamie Foxx has the somewhat less thankful role of being a solid centerpiece. He's not as flashy or charismatically dazzling as the supporting players, but I can't imagine a more solid turn as he subtly transforms from slave to heroic gunslinger ala mythological Siegfried to save his maiden. There is a disturbing discussion about Django's nature -- whether he's a common man who accidentally became an oddity, or if he really is different, a one in ten thousand kind of guy.

It's in exactly this kind of detail, and at least a hundred others, where Tarantino shines. Yes, there is a terrible beauty in the way he frames his shots and the music he meticulously matches to each scene. But at the heart of it all is the script. This, this beautifully detailed, seeming meandering, and yet always extremely sharp script. It weaves in western canon and standards, it's at times blissfully and unapologetically heavy-handed, and it's deft and quick in the interplay of light and dark. This is, at heart, a Spaghetti western, and the Italians have a word for the juxtaposition of light and dark -- chiaroscuro. "Django" is a picturesque study in this technique. The horror and the laughs. Man, those laughs. I won't spoil, but there is one scene that revolves around masks that got so absurdly, inanely funny I was starting to wonder if Larry David had a hand in it.

Tarantino does borrow heavily. One of the major climaxes is right out of his pal Robert Rodriguez's playbook. But here, it's still fresh and delightful. And quite a commotion revolves around white cake. In this movie, much like in "Basterds," Tarantino manages to have his cake and eat it, too. It's pretty difficult to top the crazy fun of killing a shitload of Nazis, but in "Django," Tarantino manages to work up our bloodlust in much the same manner. He displays -- graphically - horrific acts of cruelty, sadism, and just plain wrongness so that when the tables are turned and it's time to spill the blood of some villains, the abundance of the audience isn't just ready for it, we're salivating for it. This is, of course, where some of the more sensitive and faint-hearted will get lost, as they won't be able to morally distinguish the difference, and that's their right. But for those of us who can take glee in a solid revenge fantasy, it's outlandishly satisfying.

And at the very end, it's not too much of a spoiler to say that Tarantino seems to tip his cap to himself yet again. The final line of "Basterds" was Brad Pitt looking into the camera and talking about his masterpiece, which I always assumed was Tarantino's sly pat on his own back. He'd earned it. This time around -- mild spoiler alert here if you don't want to know anything about the film -- Django's true nature is revealed. He is not an accident. He is the very special one in ten thousand, and he boldly tells us that. Exactly. Just like this film. It's been three years since the last Tarantino film, and that makes this picture about one in ten thousand. But Tarantino? He already knows it, and so do I. I will never be even remotely the artist he is. But that's okay, because Quentin? He's one in a million.