To the extent the movie invites controversy, it will do so for its wall-to-wall use of the N-word, and perhaps some will say it trivializes slavery by turning it into the backdrop for ridiculously bloody killing sprees and explosions. Slavery is still a sensitive subject that very few Hollywood filmmakers dare to explore; even Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln largely leaves out the details of the horror. But Tarantino’s purpose is to shame slavery by bringing it out into the light to mock it and show its practitioners meeting a cruel end. He has a lot of fun with his subject along the way, and most audience members probably will too.
But still, there’s a vague sense that Tarantino is coasting; there’s a been-there, shot-that feel to the whole thing. Once again the movie runs long; again there’s a massively violent climax; again there is a distracting and somewhat unfortunate attempt by the director to show he can act (this time he plays an Australian miner); again there are lots of appearances from forgotten B-movie and TV character actors (in addition to Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, Dennis Christopher, Tom Wopat and Russ Tamblyn show up); again there are visual quotations from classic movies.
We get it: Tarantino has seen a lot of films. Has he ever read a book, though? By the time Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen were Tarantino’s age, they rightly began to suspect they were repeating themselves, and began venturing into new territory. Spielberg filmed Schindler’s List when he was only 46; Tarantino will turn 50 next spring.
Are we expecting too much of Tarantino? Maybe. He does write clever and surprising dialogue, his characters are lively, and he always gets superb performances from his actors. His action scenes are entertainingly over the top. If Tarantino never really outgrew the comic books-and-cowboys stage of adolescence, he certainly fits the profile of millions in his generation. But at some point the sense that Tarantino is wandering through the halls of film history stealing bits and pieces and mashing them together is going to go stale. A couple of more movies like Django Unchained and moviegoers will start to wonder whether Tarantino has any original ideas or whether he’s just a spoof act — the big-screen equivalent of Weird Al Yankovic.
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