The end of another year and lots of movies we’ve seen or still want to see. Our latest choice was to see what Jamie Foxx would do with his role as the slave Django in Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino apparently set out to out-Western every Western ever made, and out-bloody every bloody shootout ever filmed, Western or cops-and-robbers or whatever. It was a humorous satire with an underlying moral theme. The humor was seen in the outlandish outfits Django chose to wear, especially the Blue Boy suit he picked out when Dr. King Schulz (Christoph Walz), Django’s savior, lets him choose anything he wants as his new wardrobe. More humor in the choice of background music as stereotyped by all the Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns of yesteryear, the incompetent band of KKKers who decide to forego their head bags because they can’t see what they were doing, the overblown scenic views too perfect to be real (the mountains, the rocky campsites, the bar with beer taps and glass mugs, the unlikely number of plantations underlings who respond to the shooting in the plantation mansion at Candyland, the amount of horrific bloodshedding in that final shootout, the high-stepping routine Django goes into with his horse as he shows off for his wife Broomhilda at movie’s end. But always, beneath the humor and satire, is the indictment of an institution like slavery, an institution that too many antebellum whites could condone, could unthinkingly, inhumanely, believe that a human being could be owned, a piece of property to whom the owner could do anything with impunity. The acting was excellent—Walz as the ex-dentist bounty hunter, DiCaprio as the effeminate Calvin Candie, Foxx as the “fastest gun in the South,” and Samuel L. Jackson as the truly evil reverse “Steppin Fetchit” house slave. But Christoph Walz is the best and will probably receive a nomination is the Oscar race.
In reviewing this year’s trends in film, I keep seeing too many action films that rely too much on improbable high speed chases through crowded streets with cars and trucks exploding by the hundreds, too much dialogue laced with ear-singeing profanity, too much needlessly graphic violence and bloodshed. Why can’t more films create their tension in simpler situations? I remember Speilberg’s directorial debut in Duel, where Dennis Weaver (remember him from Gunsmoke?) is trailed by a faceless semi driver who’s out to get him as Weaver journeys west to California—simple plot, amazing tension. I remember Cornel Wilde in The Naked Prey, a safari guide who must flee for his life from tribal warriors who have been offended by white members of the hunting party—simple plot, amazing tension. I remember Spencer Tracy as Santiago, the old man in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, as he first battles the huge marlin he’s hooked, then the sharks that come to take it away from him—simple plot, amazing tension. And even in Westerns of old, when Alan Ladd in Shane has just one climactic gun fight with the villainous Jack Palance, we don’t have or need hundreds of bodies in multiple gunfights with blood and gore all over the place, just Brandon DeWilde pleading with Shane to “come back!” as the wounded gunslinger rides off into the sunset. Simple plot, amazing tension. Do we really need all that mayhem and profanity today? Look at some recent offerings that didn’t need either: The Gray, with Liam Neeson fleeing a pack of wolves across frozen countryside; 127 Hours with James Franco fighting his head and his arm in that Colorado chasm; Life of Pi with Suraj Sharma battling the sea, befriending Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger with whom he’s sharing the lifeboat; The Inside Man with Denzel Washington trying to decipher Clive Owen’s actions in the bank.
We saw a handful of previews before Django, with the latest in the Bruce Willis Die Hard saga the one that most represents all I find unnecessary in today’s films. Even from the preview clips our ears were offended by the cacophony of the car crashes and explosions and the blueness of the language, our eyes were offended by the improbability of the physical feats of Willis and his son. Who needs it? I’ll take more Inside Men and Pi’s.