Monday, 9 June 2014

Film Review #65

Django Unchained (2012)
Director: Quentin Tarantino Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Walter Goggins

Certificate: 18 Running Time: 165 Minutes

Tagline: "The "D" is Silent. Payback Won't Be."

As most movie fans know, Tarantino is a bit of a nerd. Ever since he's been making his own films they've been filled with various tributes to his many favourite films, characters, and other bits and pieces, and pretty much all of the films themselves have been homages to his preferred genres too. This latest example from his infrequently-enlarged filmography is no different, having been inspired and heavily influenced by the many Spaghetti Westerns he watched in his earlier years. Unsurprisingly then, it's set the Old West and Deep South just a couple of years before the start of the American Civil War and as such contains many depictions of slavery - a delicate subject at the best of times, so I was very interested to see how the hugely-unsubtle QT approached the subject.

Seeking out a particular slave is Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), a German bounty hunter masquerading as a dentist, and it doesn't take him long to find his quarry - namely, Django (Foxx). After 'acquiring' him from some slave traders, Schultz promises to free him... in exchange for his help in identifying the Brittle Brothers - Django's former owners and Schultz's next bounty. After demonstrating a natural talent for the line of work, as well as being understandably enthusiastic ("Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?"), Schultz proposes that they partner up for the winter, splitting any bounties evenly. After that, he pledges to help Django track down and reclaim his wife, Broomhilda (Washington), another of the Brittle Brothers' slaves who was sold off separately to split them up.

The biggest problem here is that Broomhilda's new 'owner' is Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), the charming but brutal owner of Candyland, one of the biggest cotton plantations in the state, and that means they need a plan. Unsurprisingly, the simplest idea (ask if they can buy her) is considered and dismissed in favour of a more elaborate, not to mention riskier plan (considering the place is crawling with Candie's goons). But hey, doing things the easy way doesn't often make for particularly thrilling films does it? It certainly does the trick here anyway - Django Unchained was probably a bit of a risk, what with the strong slavery and racial themes, but it's surely QT's 'biggest' film to date (it's certainly been the highest earner) and some would say it's among his best too.

Aside from those aforementioned, many of the themes will be familiar enough to QT fans - redemption, justice, revenge - but the setting is obviously markedly different. As expected, it's full of nods to the Westerns of old (not least Django's name) but, as always, everything feels fresh and is done out in QT's own particular style. The locations, sets, and particularly the costumes are superb (especially Django's amusing choice for his first outfit). Obviously I can't say from experience if it looks accurate for the time but it's more than convincing enough all the same. What really makes the film, though, is the typically snappy script as well as the actors chosen to deliver the lines. Of course, anyone scanning the cover/poster of the film will know they're a supremely talented bunch and could probably ace near enough any role Tarantino might dream up but they're also exceptionally well cast too.

Django seems to adapt to his new bounty-hunting ways, and indeed his newly-granted freedom in general, with remarkable ease for my tastes, but there's no denying the swagger with which Foxx plays him. Candie is likewise given a lot of charisma by the always-reliable DiCaprio, but the performances I enjoyed most were Sam Jackson as Candie's amusing house slave and friend, Stephen, who, despite being fiercely loyal (and bald), is also constantly questioning Candie's instructions, and Chistoph Waltz who deservedly won (another) Oscar for his turn as the exceptionally well-spoken Dr. Schultz who, though German, is even told by an American slaver to "Speak English, goddamn it!" at one point! Kerry Washington's talents are squandered somewhat but she, like everyone else, is still eminently watchable.

The only question mark over the film, really, is the extensive racist language and depictions of slavery. Tarantino has on the odd occasion been accused of racism in his films (notably by Spike Lee) and some have therefore mistaken Django Unchained as his attempt to prove otherwise by tackling such a sensitive issue. I don't think either point is correct but there is an awful lot of 'n' words used here and some really brutal treatment of the slaves by some ghastly white characters. Sadly of course, much of what we see is a pretty accurate portrayal of the times but it doesn't always make for particularly comfortable viewing all the same. That said, there's plenty of violence all around - if you disregard the (admittedly prominent) racial aspect, it's just another satisfying, stylish Tarantino revenge film packed with memorable characters and scenes, and I don't think any film fan can really ask for much more than that.

RKS Score: 8/10


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