Django Unchained Movie Review - -

Django Unchained
  Reviewed by Damien Straker on January 16th, 2013
presents a film directed by Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
Jamie Foxx, Chrisoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio,
   Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington
Running Time: 165 minutes
Rating: MA15+
Released: January 24th, 2013



In Texas, 1858, a dentist turned bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is seeking the whereabouts of a gang known as the Brittle Brothers. To find them he frees Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who knows who the men are. Travelling across the South together, the two men form a partnership, with Schultz teaching the former slave the skills of a bounty hunter. In exchange for hunting the Brittle Brothers, Schultz agrees to help locate and free Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who is still in captivity. She is a servant to a powerful slave trader, the courteous but untrustworthy Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). He runs a plantation called Candie Land, where slaves are encouraged to fight each other. Django and Schultz must pretend to be interested in buying a slave-fighter so that they can also bargain for Broomhilda's freedom. One of Candie's loyal slaves Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) remains suspicious of their new guests.

Django Unchained is the film where Quentin Tarantino finally grew up. The former video store clerk turned director, fifty next year, is showing signs he's ready to put his film geek senses aside and start substantiating his work. Django surprises because Tarantino has pared back the pop references, the verboseness and the juvenility that marks much of his work. The man who once said "violence is one of the most fun things to watch" now has something important to say about the way that killers and violence are manufactured. If this isn't shocking enough, the film is also his most compassionate and romantic work since Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), with characters who finally have something internal resembling genuine feelings.

Having imitated a number of popular film genres, Tarantino has longed to make a proper Western, a tribute to his hero Sergio Leone. He once named The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966) as his favourite film and like that movie, or any great Western, there is a wealth of commentary on justified violence here. However, the strength of Django is that it doesn't merely mimic Leone's work but provides new insights into the way that murder was deemed a necessity in the American West and the price of human life. Tarantino uses comedy to address this troubling subject matter, transcending its absurdity and brutality in unique ways we have not seen before.

Schultz's introduction is fantastic. He is richly characterised, not as a cold blooded psychopath, but as a businessman. After shooting a slave owner off his horse, Schultz puts down his rifle and then asks if he can have a bill of sale for Django. Later he explains: "I kill people and sell corpses for cash". Every kill to him is a business deal. He only kills people if he has the right paperwork for the bounty and believes he is acting within the confines of the law. Christoph Waltz is perfect in this role. He strips away any hint of malice and replaces it with a hilarious amount of gentility that makes him seem almost naive to the seriousness of his actions.

Interestingly, this character also shows changes that make him seem like a rounded human being; something unique to any Tarantino film. Schultz's friendship with Django makes him feel more responsible for other people, not just for freeing this one slave, but seeing how other people kill for entertainment, including a vicious dog attack on a slave. Django, quietly expressive by a great Jamie Foxx performance, also faces powerful moral questions about the value of life and race. Brief intercuts to memories of his wife increase the film's romantic temperament but later test his moral grounds. To fool Candie, Django must act like a slave trader and be neglectful of slaves himself. Both protagonists are therefore asked how much they're willing to sell themselves morally for flesh - a complex allegory for slavery itself.

The Candie Land scenes reach tension levels on par with Inglourious Basterds (2009). Infrequent close-up shots on Django's face and on his revolver are hugely suspenseful touches. Both DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson also form a pair of scene stealing baddies of frightening unpredictability, and build a chilling mirror to Schultz and Django's own friendship. There is an artifice to their civility, reflected through the art direction and mise en scène. The rooms of the main house are handsomely lit by candlelight and furnished with leather fittings. A woman plays Beethoven on a harp and we watch the slaves set out placements on the main dining table. But the unspoken psychological dilemma remains: do all of these luxuries come at the expense of a pound of flesh? This question is visualised with perhaps the most dramatic Faustian-like handshake in the history of movies.

For all the depth of the screenplay and the amazing performances, there are niggling shortcomings. Some technical issues include Tarantino's overly playful editing cuts and an anachronistic soundtrack, using songs from the likes of Tupac. The last fifteen minutes are also disastrous. The old Tarantino emerges with silly shootouts and an extremely stupid, unfunny cameo, a supposed gift to Australia. God help us. These are distractions from a very mature theme: no matter what their skin colour, all killers become indistinguishable from one another. Nonetheless, discussing an imperfect Tarantino film is still better than saying nothing at all.


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