Saturday, September 30, 2023

Django, on Netflix

He still comes to town dragging a mysterious casket, but this time, the spaghetti western legend carries a lot more emotional baggage. Much of it is guilt stemming from the fate of his long-lost daughter Sarah, his only surviving family member. They will soon be reunited, rather awkwardly, in co-creator-writers Leonardo Fasoli & Maddalena Ravagli’s ten-part series reboot Django, which premieres tomorrow on Netflix.

This time around, “Django” (the totally unremarkable, everyday alias he adopted) is a veteran of the Confederate army rather than the Union Blue. Eventually, we learn he only signed up for the enlistment bonus he thought he needed for his desperately poor family. Unfortunately, war changed Django, so he decided to stay away when it ended. Tragically, he learned too late his family needed his protection.

He has followed a lead to New Babylon, a town of mostly freedmen that looks like it was built by Ewoks. The leader, John Ellis, has been feuding with the ultra-judgmental “Lady” Elizabeth, who is leads a gang of marauding moralizers in the neighboring town. They have some very personal history together, which is partly why her Pops deeded the land for New Babylon to Ellis.

Despite their considerable age difference, Ellis is engaged to Sarah. It is a bit off-putting to some, considering he raised her like a daughter after the tragedy-to-be-revealed-later, especially to his son Seymour, who carries his own slightly incestuous torch for Sarah. Initially, she resents Django’s sudden reappearance, but he is quite helpful saving the good citizens of New Babylon from Elizabeth’s goons.

best approximates the neo-spaghetti Western it wants to be through its multinational co-production funding structure. English was probably the fourth or fifth language you would have most likely heard on set, even though it is an English-language production (albeit with considerable over-dubbing). However, it lacks the stark archetypal emotional simplicity of real vintage spaghetti westerns. When it is all said and done, there is practically nothing about Django that we won’t know. For this genre, that kind of over-sharing is annoying.

Fasoli and Ravagli build to a revelation linking the two families that is supposed to be grandly tragic but is really just contrived. However, the climactic gun fight in episode ten is a real barn-burner that partially makes up for all the slow brooding (yes, that is when the you-know-what finally comes out).

Matthias Schoenaerts (
Bullhead) has the right quiet hulking presence for Django (was his name-O), but he must spend more time on daddy issues than gunning down bad guys. Nicholas Pinnock has a convincing swagger and wears the mantle of flawed moral authority quite well as the senior Ellis. However, Lisa Vicari consistently kills any momentum the series might have built up with her whiny portrayal of Sarah. Noomi Rapace maybe fairs even worse. She is cartoony in the wrong kind of way as Lady Elizabeth.

Django fans might want to tune into episodes four and seven, which feature a guest-appearance from Franco Nero as a boozy priest. It is a longer, more substantial performance than his cameo in Django Unchained. He is still totally cool, but we would gladly trade his work in the 21st Century Django homage/reboots for another canonical Django sequel.

This Euro-produced
Django is as revisionist as it gets, relentlessly wearing its racial politics on its sleeve. Of course, while real Americans were fighting the Confederates who rebelled against the Constitution to preserve slavery, Charles Francis Adams and other American diplomats were desperately trying to keep England and the rest of Europe from openly siding with the pro-slavery South, so maybe Sky and Studio Canal can adapt The Education of Henry Adams as their next project.

Ten episodes is definitely too long. Fasoli and Ravagli give viewers too many conversations between characters who are not very talkative. It just doesn’t get the job done, but curious spaghetti western connoisseurs might cherry pick Nero’s episodes and the final action set piece. Not consistent enough to recommend,
Django starts streaming Sunday (10/1) on Netflix.