Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tarantino Unchanged

Twenty years and seven-and-a-half films into Quentin Tarantino's directing career, it's fairly safe to say that he's unlikely to change his style. Anyone who thought that his adherence to genre fiction, his reliance on homage, his obsession with incorporating disparate pieces of other movies and TV series into his movies, was merely a chrysalis stage while he found his voice has probably abandoned that conceit. Tarantino is as Tarantino has always been. And that's not a bad thing.

DJANGO UNCHAINED, Tarantino's new western (true, most of it takes place in the antebellum south, but as a character in ARGO says, if it has horses it's a western) is unmistakably a Tarantino film. Once again, Tarantino takes scraps of other movies and pastes them into his movie scrapbook, adding connecting bits to create his own story. He combines actors who have worked with him before (Cristoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson) with big-name actors known for other works (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx.) Tarantino focuses yet again on creating vivid characters, primary through dialogue; Waltz's German bounty hunter dentist, who savors the English language like a fine meal, provides most of the verbal entertainment until Foxx (as title character Django, the slave Waltz frees who becomes first Waltz's protege, then his partner) and DiCaprio take over. He again defies conventions of pacing -- lingering when other directors would be hurrying to the next action scene, catapulting the viewer forward when least expected, drawing the viewer's anticipation and tension to the breaking point. He again indulges the tall tale, with the bizarre coincidences and amazing feats one would expect of a legend. He again seeks the elements of the heroic among the depths of crime and inhumanity. He focuses on the consequences of violence, simultaneously repelling and fascinating the viewer with his geysers of blood. (In terms of acts of violence or body count, the film is probably no more violent than the average western of the past; but Tarantino emphasizes the bloody effects of gunshots on bodies.)

And somehow, he makes it all work. The film may be long, and may occasionally drive the viewer crazy with the director's seeming self-indulgence; but this viewer's attention never waivered from the screen. Tarantino may tell a long story, but it's never a boring one, and if he were to pause the listener would urge him on until he reached his conclusion.

We are unlikely to ever get a Tarantino film that is free of homage, that gives us his vision of the world without the filter of his fascination with what has gone before. But as long as he gives us films like DJANGO UNCHAINED, we won't mind.

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