Having recently travelled internationally I had the opportunity to view a few movies that have been on my watch list. As much as I love movies, you never get those hours of your life back. What you watch tends to go into your imagination to ruminate—and perhaps torture you—for much longer than the viewing process actually took. As such, I’m choosy. But. I was stuck on a plane for 7.5 hours. I decided: what the heck.
On my flight from London to Newark I found the recent film Django Unchained, written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, starring of course Jaime Foxx. I’m always a little wary of R rated films, but I figured due to story, it likely garnered an R rating for the use of the “n” word, as much as anything else. I wasn’t disappointed, but there’s quite a bit of superfluous, and shall we say “scifi,” amounts of blood spurting from bodies as well. Viewer beware, there’s a 3 row splash zone with this movie.
With a runtime of nearly 3 hours, and sweeping pans across stunning south, west, and mid-western landscapes, and long, overly ponderous shots of people riding or walking over these terrains, we are immediately informed we are being served a cowboy-flavor epic. The film is set 2 years before the Civil War and is about a slave named Django (Foxx), who is set free in agreement to help Dr. Schultz (Christopher Waltz), a white bounty-hunter, identify several bounties. They form a partnership and go around “killing white-folk for money.” Considering slavery, what’s not to like?
Despite silly amounts of blood bursting like geysers from fallen bodies, and soul-wrenching images of slavery, the pithy friendship and respect that forms between Schultz and Django provides a much needed respite from the difficult-to-bear images. It’s almost healing.
The story quickly reveals, in probably 30 minutes or less, that Django has a slave wife from whom he is separated. His partner agrees to help him find her and buy her freedom. Somehow this takes the remaining 2.25 hours of film to accomplish!
I confess I kept checking my watch. We already know that slavery is bad, and are disturbed by it. We’ve already cheered when Django metes out some tough justice on cruel, wanted, slavers. Why does it take another 2 hours to accomplish the goal?
The film enters its final “epic chapter” when an elaborate ruse to buy Django’s wife back goes wrong and Schultz is killed. Armed with more righteous vengeance, and more western whiplash sound effects, our hero continues to ride heroically across vast tracks of terrain, looking cool in his vendetta against slavery…
Well, his vendetta against the slavery of his wife anyway.
The rest of the slaves will just have to fend for themselves, I’m afraid, because Django only has eyes for his bride (who is improbably kept from the punishments and abuses other slaves seem to suffer, so she can keep looking super-hot). But besides the small thrill of watching the tacit hero once again win the beautiful maiden, I’m afraid the blazing epic setting falls short of actually being worth 3 hours of my time. I could have watched a brutal film about personal revenge in 75 minutes, and still fit in Wreck-it Ralph before they served me plastic chicken in a strange brown sauce.
I would give Django a 5 out of 10 on the Nogrometer. The repetitive slayings, reoccurring images of slavery, and horseback riding against mountainscapes would have been better suited for a 3 or 4 episoded mini-series than an all-in-one butt buster. Preying on culturally easy themes–slavery bad!–it lacks any conclusive moral victories. As a fictional story I find it disappointing that we have to lose the only cool white person in the film to a klutzy shoot-‘em-out (as though we needed another reason to hate Leonardo Di Caprio’s greasy-haired villain). And if I just wanted to see white people being killed I could have watched, say, Predator 2 or something. Duh, slavery is bad, but give me a hero who does something… I don’t know… more heroic!
But chicken wasn’t bad…