Thursday, December 27, 2012


Django Unchained

Directed & Written
Quentin Tarantino

     No other filmmaker working today is a genre to himself like Quentin Tarantino. When he has an upcoming film, if your are an intense fan and admirer like myself, you know what kind of film your going to get. The exciting part is that its going to be provocative, gruesome and full of stark humor, but how each one of these elements adhere to the story and how they play out brings about that excitement. Quentin Tarantino's latest feature Django Unchained is no exception at all. Tarantino has crafted a film that is rich in characters and gritty, and bloody, in its presentation.
     In Tarantino's 2009 World War II semi-action, brotherhood revenge flick Inglourious Basterds, the film was saturated with long set pieces and delicate dialogue, but in this viewers eyes felt too talky, which I usually like, and too cartoonish for me to fall full in love with. Its not that I didn't like parts of Inglourious Basterds, the opening scene was gorgeously shot, expertly written and a fascinating introduction to Christoph Waltz's sinister Nazi Hans Landa, but overall I just couldn't get past the boredom of the dialogue (card/bar scene) and annoyance of Brad Pitt and Eli Roth's horrible accents. It was self-indulgent, over talked nonsense. It didn't envelope me like all of Tarantino's past films, which I've seen multiple times and loved everyone of them. In Django Unchained, I feel Tarantino is back with the wit, discipline and charisma that makes him a filmmaker that defies justifiable definition. 
     The film follows bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and a slave he has freed Django (Jamie Foxx) two years before the onset of the Civil War. Schultz teaches Django the ways of being a bounty hunter and with his help, will lead Django to Mississippi to free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The film contains boundless imagination and B-movie, spaghetti western references, but also intense and brutal violence during one of the darkest periods in the history of the United States of America.

     I knew I was in for a treat during the opening scene when Schultz's character runs into a group of slaves being led by two white men(James Remar and James Russo), on a cold night somewhere in Texas. Schultz appears driving a wagon with a large tooth springing around on the top of it and speaks in that perfected, Tarantino-world dialogue. The humor was there against disgust and brutality of these slaves, in shackles and with what looks like a potato sack for clothing in the frigid weather. Pure film magic with contrast of hate and despair, and the humor and preciseness of Schultz's high intellect and delivery of his lines.
     The first half of Django Unchained is some of the finest written and funniest filmmaking of Tarantino's career. Waltz is absolutely fantastic as the former dentist Schultz. He delivers Tarantino's lines has if he was born to act for him. The intellect shown through the performance by Waltz gives the film strength, comedy and, being that Schultz is against slavery, a character that can feel and bring support to the pain that Django goes through. He is a fine actor to begin with, but he just has the knack and humor to be perfect for the role of this bounty hunter and steals the movie. Foxx is good as Django, but doesn't have as many lines as Waltz. Its OK. He has a one track mind and all his intent is on doing whatever he can to get back and rescue his wife. His character is fleshed out as the movie goes on and the bloodbath he delivers on Calvin Candie's plantation "Candyland" is his retribution for the agony of his wife being mistreated and beaten, as well as himself being a slave. Django is that one out of ten thousand and he seeks out his revenge without any hesitation.
     The violence, hate and distaste that comes during the second half of the film brings the violent terror of slavery and how it affected these married individuals and African Americans in the Deep South to horrifying light. The hardest part of the film is the abuse and mistreatment of slaves and how they suffer. The scenes where Django, Broomhilda and other slaves are being beaten, forced to fight and ripped apart by dogs is truly appalling. I believe Tarantino shows the violence against African American slaves to not only exhibit what it was like for African Americans to live during slavery, but also to show the cruelty of white hate and supremacy. This all makes the final battle scene(s), where Django goes for his revenge and to rescue Broomhilda all the more satisfying. It also shows his love of the spaghetti western where the hero goes through hell and a journey to achieve his goal. 
     The minor problem with the film is that all the momentum going through the first half of the film slows down once we get to Candyland. I felt stuck on this plantation, knowing this is where the film would end, but he needed more movement and surroundings. The pace dampered while the hate and vitriol intensified. A scene where Django is captured and is going to be transferred to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company and put back into slavery felt like it dragged and needed to be swift and not as long. Although these minor pacing issues and too talky of moments on Candyland, the film is a blast and is a B-movie, spaghetti western, genre influenced joy of cartoonish, Quentin Tarantino cinema.

     The acting is in high form, as always with a Tarantino film. DiCaprio gives one of his best performances as the evil, twisted plantation owner Calvin Candie. He is sophisticated, being called Monsieur Candie and an avid francophile, but deep down he is a degenerative human being who is all about the appearance of being sincere, while honestly being inhumane and detestable. It was great to see DiCaprio show his range and travel into the depths of a truly villainous character. Another performance that is worth noting is Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson as the house slave Stephen. He is Candie's right hand man and Jackson brings to life a loud, foul mouthed, atrocious character of his own. He has excepted his place in this world and has turned to a distasteful human being himself. And without forgetting, Don Johnson gives a wonderful performance as another plantation owner Big Daddy. He is right on point with this character and is also in probably the funniest scene in the film, but I'll let everyone watch to find out which one it is. Hilarious.
     The production design is perfect from J. Michael Riva and the slick, beautiful lensing from cinematographer Robert Richardson is in usual lush perfection. There are gorgeous wide angle vista shots of the landscape and the fight scene is shot with an assured hand. And you can't talk about a Tarantino film without the appreciation of his use of music. With new songs from Rick Ross and John Legend, as well as spaghetti western legend Ennio Morricone's contributions, he knows when to use, when to place and when it should be used for humor and drama. Always the right place at the right time. The beginning of the film starts with the original title song from the spaghetti western that loosely influenced this film, Sergio Corbucci's Django (1966). We also get a cameo from that films lead actor Franco Nero in the film.
     I believe Tarantino has taken a turn for the better with his last two films. He has gone from the crime and gangster films of Los Angeles with Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, to pure cinematic exploitation-action with the Kill Bill films and Death Proof (great car chase), to now going into terrible times in human history with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. He is showing he is not afraid to make films that shed a light on serious, traumatic times in history, but add a sense of humor and cinematic pleasure to them. I think all of these films revel in Tarantino's love of foreign, blaxploitation, spaghetti western, horror, samurai/martial arts and all things B-movie lore and history. He has brought life to these genres by creating works of great appreciation and full on crazed pieces of film. His films are pure cinematic joy and entertainment. They can be taken seriously, but I believe he is a master craftsmen and a filmmaker that truly loves and understands all ranges of film and film history.
     Quentin Tarantino writes and makes films that seek out unlawful justice for those cheated and abused. He is not afraid to test any boundaries and with this film, and Inglourious Basterds, he has gone into an almost revisionist style of storytelling revolving around terrible times in human history. All in all, its pure entertainment with revisionist historical twist that shines an unflinching light on a troubling period with sweet revenge. Tarantino is not adverse to showing the violent side of human nature, even if it is for pure cinematic expression and he doesn't hold back in Django Unchained. It is easy to laugh at scenes during this film and then feel uncomfortable and cringe at other scenes of torture, abuse and the complete vile treatment of African Americans during slavery. But, once again, this is Tarantino-world movie magic. The most sinister and detestable of characters and actions can be turned into cinematic pleasure when the good guys comes out on top, at least in Tarantino's vision. The movie boils down to a man trying to rescue and get back to his wife, and its great. Especially in the bloody, orchestrated madness of Tarantino's Django Unchained.

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