Western is a genre long dead. Don’t get me wrong Hollywood has tried countless times since Unforgiven (Open Range, Legends of the Fall, Hi-Lo Country, Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Ride With The Devil, Dead Man etc.) to revive the dying genre. It seemed like it was going to turn into a niche market, and something we would only see maybe once every 3 years if we were lucky. Then in 2004 HBO unleashed “Deadwood”; which opened back the rawness of the genre and brought an entirely new audience into the ‘Wild West’.Things were looking up for the dying genre.
Then in 2005 John Hillcoat made a film that completely surpassed anything that had been done in the genre since Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”. “The Proposition” brought an entirely new outlook onto the genre. It had a realism that Westerns had been lacking for decades at that point; and many hailed this moment as a resurgence of ‘The Western”. In retrospect it still took another 2 years for things to pick up. In 2007; Four films completely unlike, but very similar in tone; tore open a new kind of “Wild West”. There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jessie James by The Coward Robert Ford and 3:10 To Yuma. These four films all showed Hollywood and the world, Westerns were not dead, and the market was bigger than ever. It looked amazing for the future of the “West”. But sadly it died off again and went virtually unseen for 5 years.
Then in 2012, Quentin Tarantino came ‘guns a blazin’ and unleashed what is the most violent western since “The Wild Bunch”, the funniest western since “Maverick” or City Slickers” and I would argue even Blazing Saddles” and the most visually stunning western since There Will Be Blood or even Unforgiven. This is a film that has everything; and everything in extremes. From the language to the violence to the sharply brilliant musical choices (Like Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name” from Jeff Bridge’s “Last American Hero” or The “Requiem” [Prologue] from “Battle Royale”) Quentin from frame one came out in true epic style. This is a mature Tarantino working within film and even references within the film, the regular movie goer is maybe going to like and have a good time with, but not fully realize how sheerly brilliant a film Quentin has made.
I made a statement in 2009 about how after No Country ripped away There Will Be Bloods Oscar and Slumdog did the same to Milk or even Curious Case; that I felt a film of near perfection would now take a decade to even come around again. I was excited in 2012 when I was witness to Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” that I had seen the closest thing to perfection on screen in 20 years. Then Pablo Larrain came out with “NO” and I was completely floored. I had not seen a film with that much raw passion and perfection since Bertolucci’s “The Last Empire”. 2012 was quite literally “The year real film came back”. The 70’s directors era was seeing a resurgence and I was never more proud to be in the greatest industry and art form of all time. But with those 2 films; Django was looking further away from reaching the level I was hyping it up to be. It’s no secret Tarantino is my single favorite filmmaker of all time and DiCaprio my favorite actor of all time, But Could Quentin make a film on the level of Pulp or even Basterds without Lawrence Bender and Sally Menke? As far as I’m concerned Sally was just as much of Tarantino’s greatness as Tarantino himself. I went in to Django excited but prepared for the worst. Boy was I wrong because I didn’t hype the film enough.
Now you can tell Fred Raskin studied under Sally. It’s not quite the same but it really is the closest you can get.
The Standoff/shootout was masterfully cut and the Don Johnson sequence conveys this tension that was palpable. Even as Waltz and Foxx go from town to town in there carnage, Fred keeps things tight and on edge but with a slight slip of light-heartness that helps to play into the amazing comedic value of Quentin’s screenplay. There has always been humor in Tarantino’s films but his love and growing up with the likes of “Abbott and Costello” and “The Three Stooges” shines brightly here. It’s a darkly funny film and even the music choices play into this. There are some spotty cuts though and the make-up in certain areas could have been done better, but besides that I can’t complain about a lot in the film. Of course it should be longer and the entire brilliant screenplay should have made it onto screen but rumors of an extended cut are out there. Some will complain that it’s too long, but it’s not long enough because even more could be delved into (like the mining company employee’s).
As for the acting, I don’t know where to begin. This is the single best assortment of actors in a film this year and frankly prob even in the last 5 years. Everyone is near flawless here from Kerry Washington to Don Johnson to Jamie Foxx and even the brilliant cameos (or 2 or 3) add even more to the film. It was an acting masterclass, and that’s without Christolph Waltz or Leonardo DiCaprio that both provide top 2 performances of there career and top 20 of all time. Waltz may have topped his Basterds performance here. His timing is so spot on its scary. It’s like watching Brando in his prime. and DiCaprio’s Candie is one of the best villains I have ever seen on screen. This performance will solidify why he is my favorite actor and anyone who had doubts about his acting were just plain wrong. I honestly don’t even know where to start without giving things away or without seeing it at least twice more because every single character has so much going on it’s just a joy to watch. Even Don Johnson’s radiant performance with subtle ‘Miami Vice” references everywhere from the costume to the dialogue just shows how truly great this film is.
I really didn’t think I would see perfection on the screen this year, especially not 3 times; but Quentin did not disappoint at the last minute. I think this could finally be the film that revitalizes the Western genre like Quentin has done for so many actors in the past. I can not recommend the film enough. And as I could go into all the Spaghetti- Western references and the resurgence to that I feel for the most part people are just not going to know the like of “Gods Gun” or “Face to Face” or “Keoma” or “El Puro” etc. so I decided to keep the review at just westerns. But this is the best Spaghetti-Western since “Duck, You Sucker!”. This may have even surpassed “Pulp Fiction” as Quentin’s best film, but I can easily say this is the best film of the year.