Django Unchained (2012), directed by Quentin Tarantino

When a friend asked me for my most anticipated film of 2012, way back in January or so of that same year, I said it was tie between Cogan’s Trade (which turned into Killing Them Softly) and Django Unchained.

No real point to the story other than to establish that this was the film of all films for me this year.

But, just like Killing Them Softly, I didn’t get the experience I had anticipated.

Django Unchained is a lot of things. It’s a hell of a film to watch. It’s violent and exciting. It’s full of wonderful, exuberant performances. It’s gritty and running high on cinematic love. The music is perfect. It’s exploitation candy and appropriately sweet. It’s wonderfully crafted and brimming with Tarantino’s nerdy appreciation of trashy movies.

On one level it’s really quite fantastic.

But I feel 2012 was the year of slight, nagging disappointment for me and I’m afraid Django did not break the trend.

While I enjoyed watching it, I couldn’t help but feel it lacked something and that it falls short of what the wonderful Inglorious Basterds accomplished. I also worried that maybe I’m getting a little tired of this phase of Tarantino’s career and that the cinematic chameleon needs to mix it up again. It had a slight odour of “been here, done that.”

People (who, you ask? You know, just people) are calling this Tarantino’s second “revenge” film of a possible trilogy. Well, I don’t know about that. For one thing what’s he going to tackle next? Chinese railroad workers killing railroad tycoons? Indians rising up to kill British colonists? He’s talked about  making a film called Killer Crows about a group of African-American WW2 soldiers that rise up and kill a bunch of white soldiers, but can you see that happening?

In my opinion (not at all humble), Django completes a “revenge” trilogy that started with Death Proof. Stylistically it’s quite different, but it’s about women rising up and kicking ass against violence against women. People dismiss Death Proof as a rare failure from Tarantino, but I think it’s one of his best (due partly to my obsession with carsploitation films) and thematically fits here.

So, basically I’m saying trilogy over, let’s do something different Quentin.

It’s not that it’s a bad movie, at all. It isn’t, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, it’s what cinema needs once in a while. I already want to see it again because it thrilled the heck out of me. But I guess with Django, as opposed to Basterds, that’s all it was to me. I didn’t think it shattered expectations, it didn’t fly in the face of modern film. It didn’t strike me as “important” (groan). I’m not sorry I didn’t see it before I wrote my “best of the year” list.

Mainly it didn’t achieve those heights because Tarantino already did it, which is sort of a compliment. And there is an argument to be made that Django tackles slavery in a more honest, brutal, realistic way than a film like Lincoln, my pick for best of the year, ever could. And that’s fair. I do believe in the power of exploitation cinema to reveal the dark corners of human existence. Django did accomplish that, and rather well too. And I enjoyed watching how Tarantino walked the line of exploiting slavery for a revenge film, but only letting the audience enjoy the revenge, not the violence and sex associated with slavery. That would have been terrible.

Maybe it’s a case of having to high of expectations. I’m not sure. But for whatever reason Django Unchained was not the masterpiece I had prepared myself for. Full disclosure: I may end up loving it someday.

Django Unchained is in cinemas now.