Sunday, January 6, 2013
Django Unchained - Movie Review
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, Don Johnson, James Russo, Tom Wopat, M.C. Gainey, Dana Gourrier, Laura Cayouette, Franco Nero and Jonah Hill.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino.
QT does for slaves here what he did for Jews in Inglourious Basterds - gives them a violent reimagining of history, boiling it down to a revenge flick. Which is all fine and good. When Tarantino puts history through his 1970's blaxploitation spaghetti-western worldview, he uses staples from his favorite B-flick genres, and by scrambling events through his prism, we get another ironic staple. Cinematically alive and consistently engrossing, this Django doesn't disappoint. It's not his best, but it's another impressive addition to his filmography.
When we first meet Django (Foxx), he is a slave being moved with a chain-gang across various terrains. That gang is stopped by Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), a dentist turned bounty hunter who needs Django to help him identify some men he's hunting down. Waltz gets to demonstrate all the charisma he had for Hans Landa, but for a slightly more moral man. The Schultz-Django dynamic is like a fun buddy-cop period piece.
Schultz trains Django in the art of gunfire, and as they collect bounties and make money, Schultz makes a deal with Django. He hates slavery and feels bad he's benefiting from its trappings by owning Django, so after they've made some money, he agrees to set Django free and help him find his wife Broomhilda (Washington). They learn she was sold to Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), owner of one of the largest plantations in Mississippi.
The second half of the movie takes on a more heart-of-darkness feel. Our heroes enter deep into the property of Candieland, and we hope they're going to somehow pull off their con and get out alive.
Candie's side business is "mandingo fighting", having slaves fight no-holds-barred to the death, and placing bets. Schultz poses as an interested investor, and Django is his expert on black stock. They intend to buy one of Candie's best fighters, then casually buy Broomhilda on the side.
One wrench in the plans comes from Stephen (Jackson), Candie's right-hand house slave whose subservient dicrepitude hides a steel mind and loyal soul to Candie. Stephen plays his Uncle Tom role well, but behind closed doors, there's clearly more respect and trust than outsiders can see. Stephen is unlike anything Samuel L. Jackson's played before, and while Waltz and DiCaprio were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the Golden Globes, I hope come Oscar time one of those slots goes to Jackson. The Django-Schultz relationship paralleled with the Stephen-Candie one is just another sign there's a method to QT's madness.
There's been controversy due to the movie's frequent use of the n-word. QT's dialogue is always so quotable, but this is one where white people won't be able to casually quote some of his best lines because that word's in there. Well, historically it seems to fit right in. It's as though QT's rubbing our face in the history of race relations, that unpleasant bit of business our great-great-great grandparents went through.
The violence, especially the last half-hour, explodes like a comic opera. Each bullet explodes its target like a Ziploc baggie full of Karo syrup. People who've found previous Tarantino flicks distasteful should not hope he's calmed down for this one.