Walsh attacks Django for its weak plotting and shallow treatment of its ostensible themes (the story "treat[ing] slavery in an entirely false and ahistorical fashion" and "pivot[ing] on inconsequential or contrived incidents . . . nothing more than the clumsy preparation for the final bloodbath"), its similarly shallow handling of its characters (its "stereotypes . . . a decent, journeyman Hollywood studio director of another day would hardly have dared to bring to the screen"), and its sheer mean-spiritedness and sadism ("Almost everyone is filthy, even leaving aside the psychotics and racist maniacs who dominate the goings-on"). Walsh, who had previously reviewed Tarantino's work unfavorably, takes this latest film as proof that Tarantino is "a seriously unskilled artist," better thought of as "a cultural huckster, with a minor talent for pastiche, reworking genres and creating blackly comic moments" than a genuinely significant filmmaker.
At least as interesting as his criticism of the film itself is what Walsh has to say about the reason why critics have heaped so much praise on Tarantino's films for two decades now, namely that an artist
simply cannot be too bleak, sadistic, pessimistic or contemptuous of humanity for the so-called 'radical' or 'left' critic. Cynicism and misanthropy are one’s admission ticket. Anyone who believes in the betterment of mankind is automatically excluded.Reading Walsh's comment, which rather neatly sums up not only the celebration of Tarantino's work, but that exaltation of "dark and gritty" material, I found myself thinking of that current of critical opinion holding that the deeply flawed Battlestar Galactia is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius while pre-reboot Star Trek is relentlessly bashed as a "microcosm of everything that's wrong with science fiction"; that holds that "We prefer the Cylons, who school us about humanity by screwing and killing us" to Data, The Doctor and other "clueless wankers with Aspergers who teach us what it means to be human."1
Walsh takes a similar view of Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, another celebrated Oscar nominee, his examination of which is likewise well worth checking out.
1. The Doctor, of course, is the holographic doctor on Star Trek: Voyager. I was not a particular fan of that fourth incarnation of the series, which did indeed feel rather creaky and outworn, but must say that I consistently found the Doctor the most engagingly written character on that show.
David Walsh on The Life of Pi
My Posts on Battlestar Galactica
My Posts on Star Trek
My Posts on Postmodernism