Sunday, December 30, 2012
How the West Was Dumb, Dept.
Saw this today after an endless stream of godawful trailers. Wow, different target demo from The Hobbit, I tell you whut. One that the studio believes loves horror, crap comedies and Big Guns.
And...it was good. For the first half of the film, Christoph Waltz pulls focus by dint of his onscreen charisma, talent and characterization. Jamie Foxx is very good as the slave-turned-bounty-hunter. Leo DiCaprio also very good as the genteel/brutal Mississippi slaveowner. Samuel L. Jackson great as an éminence grise of a house slave. And there are a bajillion recognizable (and less so) cameos, from Russ Tamblyn and Franco Nero to Don Johnson and Bruce Dern.
What keeps it from greatness? The soundtrack was...odd. Spaghetti western score meets hip-hop and the world's least adroit Jim Croce song placement. Like, I know QT has a thing for '70s pop, but "I Got a Name" was a complete and utter failure in its slot. He might as well have used "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." Ugh.
There was also a strange emphasis on slightly fey characters for the worst of the villains that might be characterized as homophobic or at least a throwback to the late '50s-late '70s when the villains were gay because, YOU know, those nancies are psycho!
But, really, the thing that turned me off most was one of Tarantino's calling cards: gratuitous violence. Now, in a film about slavery, it would be odd and out of place to have smiling slaves and gentle overseers. And Tarantino does not stint at showing those things besides busting one's back in the southern sun that made slavery a brutal, dehumanizing institution. For the first two-thirds of the film, there had been some non-slavery violence, but really nothing out of the norm for the period and genre. And the film had been trotting along as a pretty good Western, actually. With comic relief and period color and interesting characters.
Then, in the last half hour or so, the gorefest commenced, and the bodies piled up alarmingly quickly, all dispatched in vivid closeups and at disconcerting angles. Not cartoon violence, like The Bride's decimation of the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill Volume 1, but rather graphic, realistic violence at close range. (By contrast to which, there is no sex at all in this film. A very occasional reference to some aspect of sex, two very non-erotic scenes of nudity and that's it. Which makes me wonder about the auteur a bit.) Because, as enjoyable as aspects of Tarantino's films are, the inescapable bouts of gratuitous, explicit, screensplattering carnage are tired. So very, very tired. It's one thing to show the violent side of slavery--that's real and necessary for a film such as this. It's quite another to have the walls literally painted red. It's not really entertaining, and, if anything, destroys the rhythm and mood of the film. Like a triple-bacon cheeseburger after three courses of nigiri.
So, a qualified recommendation for this film. The acting is enjoyable, the story not strikingly original (then again, it is Quentin "slavish hommage to my favorite genres" Tarantino) but engaging and the characters vividly drawn (especially DiCaprio's henchmen). But the odd soundtrack choices a real disappointment, the veiled homophobia disconcerting and the violence boring when not repellent.
I wish he'd learn to holster that particular gun, because this could've been a really fun Western, spaghetti or otherwise, without it.
Oh, and could someone explain the final moments' flashback to a scene we'd not seen earlier regarding Django as the "fastest gun in the South" and especially Django's dressage bit? Because, unless there's a sequel planned in which those two points are principal plot elements, it was the strangest derail I've seen for a film ending since the stupid breakdancing that concludes Tim Burton's abortion of an Alice in Wonderland remake.