While poetic license may serve as a liberating creative tool for a filmmaker channeling recorded history through a movie, recklessly navigating that vehicle, license or not, is debatable. And such could not be more the case with the down ‘n dirty Old Dixie road movie, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
Whether Django Unchained is a slavery slapstick spaghetti western or merely pulp fiction playing dress-up in Confederacy duds, that seems to be beside the point. With a tone that shifts abruptly and often between grim and ludicrous, whatever sanctity related to the horrific history of black bondage in this country seeps out of this story as rapidly as the deluge of blood and projectile guts from the endless bullet riddled bodies.
Jamie Foxx is the Django in question – no relation except perhaps as homage to Franco Nero’s turn as the Italian badass cowboy of the same name in Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 original. (And Nero does make a cameo appearance in the wacko insular Tarantino universe here). Shackled to a slave chain gang being led across the Texas wilderness several years before the Civil War, Django is violently freed from bondage by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant and itinerant dentist turned bounty hunter on the sly.
But Schultz harbors an ulterior motive for rescuing Django from captivity, namely the now ex-slave’s usefulness in tracking down his former owners, who happen to have a substantial bounty on their heads. And Django agrees to work for Schultz, if the bounty hunter in turn helps him locate his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who had been cruelly sold away by the slave owners.
And in the course of their odd couple journey through the Southern slavocracy that is more a concoction inside Tarantino’s head than anything else, scenes of racial brutality alternate with a ‘just kidding’ sense of casual humor. And that tends to trivialize whatever horror came before.
While oddly enough – Leonardo DiCaprio’s cartoonish plantation potentate villain Calvin Candie aside – visualizing an idyllic South that could have been ironically crafted by a filmmaker with Confederacy nostalgic tendencies instead. Including stylishly attired compliant, when outright conspiratorial with the Massa slaves (Samuel Jackson) happily prancing about the grounds, and women among them eagerly serving as seductive bordello babes on the premises.
All possibly revealing a lot less about the Old South, than the sugar coated present where reality is layered over with cruelty and violence for laughs, and whatever sells rather than signifying a case for sober reflection. And history, along with moviemaking, that gets a makeover under the dominant commercial imperatives of infotainment.
The Weinstein Company