Thursday, 24 January 2013

[REVIEW] - Django Unchained

Django Unchained silhouette banner

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Certificate: 18
Run-time: 165 minutes


IN SHORT: Tarantino's bloody and controversial tribute to the Western is a defiant success. Django Unchained is a must see if you're a fan of QT's unique style and humour.

With Tarantino, what you see is what you get. The man exudes passion and enthusiasm, it's very obvious that he loves every second of what he does. There's zero pretension when you're watching one of his movies, his work is for entertainment purposes and nothing more. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm a BIG Tarantino fan who expected to be thrilled, to laugh and to squirm a little. I don't want to tackle debates on morality and race in my review because this is a movie and its purpose is to entertain.  If you go in to Django Unchained with that mind-set, I can't see anyone being disappointed. 

The movie starts with a tense stand-off as a man (Waltz) driving a dentist wagon meets a pair of white slave-traders in the forest. The dentist, Doctor Shultz, asks if he can buy one of their shackled slaves, a man named Django (Foxx). When they refuse to sell, Schultz shoots them both with a small revolver hidden in his sleeve. Schultz isn't a Doctor at all, he's in fact a bounty hunter who needs Django's assistance for his next hit on a group called the Brittle Bros. The Brittle's run the plantation that separated Django and his wife, so with vengeance and his freedom at stake, Django agrees to help Dr Schultz.

Django Unchained Jamie Foxx outfit
Once he's freed, Django gets to choose his own outfit, so he chooses the above...
Django Unchained is Tarantino at his darkest. Often a very evil and disturbing act will be portrayed in a blasé, matter-of-fact fashion, which some people will take offense to. For example, in one scene a large mob of KKK members, en-route to capturing and torturing Django and Schultz, start arguing about the ineffectiveness of their hoods. "I can't see shit", exclaims one of the rednecks, whilst faffing around with the crudely cut holes over his eyes. This potentially offensive scene feels sketch-like and in truth these characters bear little influence upon the film but it's also one of the funniest moments of the movie and the comic relief is a nice change of pace in a movie full of stark brutality.

The disturbing aspects of the slave trade are revealed in a frighteningly realistic fashion. Schultz and Django meet a plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Di Caprio), the man who has unwittingly bought Django's wife. One of Candie's past-times is Mandingo fighting, where he and his rich friends make two black slaves fight to the death. We watch one of these fights as the slaves scrap it out on a carpet whilst Candie stands over the bloody and bruised men smoking a cigarette, cheering like a reveled spectator. This man is pure evil but due to Di Caprio's fantastic performance, you're intrigued by him. Hell, you may even like him, in some strange way.

As an actor, it must be a joy to star in a Tarantino film as his characters are always so well written and you get catchphrases like, "I like the way you die, boy!". Every performance is superb (aside from one which I'll mention later). Jamie Foxx has an enviable swagger, he sweats coolness proving that the decision to cast him was the right one. He and Christoph Waltz share an absorbing chemistry, making them a very fun duo to watch. Waltz's character is quite similar to his one in Inglorious Basterds. Hans Landa and Dr Schultz share many of the same mannerisms and eccentricities, which is somewhat distracting. And ofcourse, there's also Samuel L. Jackson who plays Stephen, an elderly house servant who's just as ignorant and oppressive as his white masters.

Calvin Candie Django Unchained
I promise you, you've never seen Di Caprio like this before.
Django Unchained specifically pays homage to Spaghetti Westerns. Tarantino evokes this style of film-making with the use of crash-zooms, long shots of deserted landscapes and text transitions. From a visual stand-point, Django Unchained is Tarantino's best film, a beautiful send-up to classic Westerns. It's also one of his bloodiest as squibs are used in many of the gruesome shoot-outs. I must say though, I was slightly disappointed with the soundtrack. Rap music is juxtaposed with classical and to me it felt jarring. The film was missing an iconic score that would really define it as a movie. It would've also been cool if Django had his own aural motif.
 
Although Django Unchained is an authentic homage, it also feels contemporary and fresh. It isn't a perfect movie though. Tarantino opts for a more linear plot this time round but there are still scenes that feel disconnected. He also delivers the worst performance of the entire cast with his cameo as an Australian mining company employee. It doesn't ruin the film but it's noticeably awkward. Besides these quibbles, I'd have no qualms in recommending Django Unchained, just don't go expecting historial accuracy!

5 comments:

  1. Nice review, I agree that Tarantino's performance was weak, but his exit was incredible and worth the time one screen.

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    1. Yup, I think that's probably why he wrote that role for himself. I was going to mention his exit in my review but it's such an enjoyable moment, I thought I'd better not spoil it.

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  2. For me, "Django Unchained" is still a must-see (actually all Tarantino's movies are must-see), but I think there's a problem with the plot that makes it feels so non-climax. And I always root for DiCaprio! He deserves more accolades than Waltz, I guess. Nice review, btw.

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    1. Thank you Akbar and welcome to my blog.

      You're right, all of QT's films are a must see and really, I was only picking out flaws because I was playing the role of a critic. Whilst in the cinema, a lot of these things didn't bother me as much. I was engaged and entertained throughout.

      And yes, I would've given the Oscar nom to DiCaprio and not Waltz.

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  3. Ben,

    I think I saw a recent interview with Tarantino saying he had originally written the role for someone else and when they left he filled in their place. I could be wrong though.

    CL

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