Raw Spaghetti

‘Django Unchained'

The director Quentin Tarantino loves genre, the grungier the better. His first three films, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, are gangster movies—or, rather, gangster mutants, for their creator relaxed conventions for detours into gallows humor, pop-culture disquisitions, horrific accidents, surprisingly tender romantic interludes, and Hemingway-esque trials of male honor. In fact, it is these very detours that make the movies work. Genre sets up expectations, and Tarantino reversed or exploded expectations to expand his narratives, complicate his characters, and keep his audience in a gratifying state of anxiety.

Since then, however, Tarantino has seemed more interested in decorating conventions than in transcending them. The Kill Bill films are nothing more than visually glitzed-up martial-arts junk. Deathproof (the second half of the Grindhouse project) comprises two excellent car chases and forty-five minutes of pseudo-tough yapping among valley girls. Inglourious Basterds (sic), a behind-enemy-lines thriller set during World War II, is full of dramatic potential, but the director wastes it all for the sake of a last-reel bloodbath. Though all these movies have Tarantino’s customary comic-book garishness, there is a huge difference between the early and later work: the first three are populated by characters with interesting quirks, who always...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.