Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Django Unchained (2012)

Title: Django Unchained (2012)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Don Johnson


There’s a group of filmmakers out there that use their clout in Hollywood, their power as icons of filmmaking to truly say something about humanity with their films. These directors grow conscious of the power they have as storytellers and so, instead of making empty Hollywood spectacles with no meat to them, they opt to make films that actually say something, films that not only entertain us, but also enlighten us at the same time. Take for example Steven Spielberg who’s been doing it for years with films like Empire of the Sun (1987), Amistad (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Schindlers List (1993) and most recently Lincoln (2012); all films that pin point a dark time in human history. Through these films Spielberg speaks of the horrors of war and the inhumanity of slavery. With Inglorious Basterds (2009) and now, Django Unchained Tarantino has graduated into this group of filmmakers who use their careers and films to comment on the evils of society. Yes sir ladies and gents, Django Unchained serves up a hefty helping of Tarantino hatred aimed at the white supremacist boneheads who think that white is more than black. Once again Tarantino zeroes in and aims his guns at the evils of racism. 

In Django Unchained  we meet Dr. King Schultz, a mercenary disguised as a dentist. He goes around killing criminals for bounty. He needs to kill this gang of murderers, but he doesn’t know what they look like, so he searches for a slave that used to work in the same plantation where these three criminals are currently hiding out. Enter Django, the slave who can help Dr. Schultz out. It isn’t long before both Django and Dr. Schultz team up and decide to work together as bounty hunters, erradicating the world of bad guys for the right price. But Django can never forget his true love, a beautiful slave girl by the name of Broomhilda. Can Dr. Schultz and Django free Broomhilda From the clutches of an evil slave driver named Calvin Candie?

So the pleasures of watching a Tarantino film are many in my book. First off, let’s talk about how Tarantino is finally making a western, a genre of films that he was obviously going to end up working on at some point in his career. It is almost a given that whoever loves Kung Fu movies as much as Tarantino does, will also love westerns, because both of these genres are very similar. This is probably the reason why Tarantino agreed to appear in Takashi Miike's Sukijaki Western Django (2007), a film that effectively mixed the asian film with the western, I recommend that one if you feel like seeing a stylish and offbeat western, in it Tarantino cameos as a cowboy. Tarantino's love for westerns is very evident in Django Unchained, for example his appreciation for Sergio Corbucci's original Django (1966) can be heard as soon as the film starts; it opens with the original Django theme song from Corbucci's film playing through out the entire opening credit sequence, the credits in the film where done using the same striking red font used in Corbucci's film. Django Unchained has shoot outs, taverns, characters riding horses in the sunset, a little town in the middle of nowhere, sherriffs, marshalls, male bonding, all elements we've come to expect from the western; but what makes this one different is the issue of slavery. Django Unchained goes into the whole 'Mandigo Fighting' scene, which was all about white slavers pitting their strongest slaves against each other to the death.  

Now if you've seen Tarantino's previous films then you know that he sympathizes with black people and all the suffering they've gone through across history, one could almost say that Tarantino wishes he was black himself. While he has been known to love all types of films from different genres, he's always had a fondness for blaxsploitation films like Coffy (1973), Superfly (1972), The Mack (1973) Foxy Brown (1974) and Shaft (1971). Tarantino is constantly inspired by these films. His love for them always shows up in his work; Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997) both have a whole lot of black in them and so does Django Unchained. Black is beautiful and Tarantino knows it; and he wants to make damn sure you know it as well. Black characters have always formed a part of Tarantino's cinematic heroes, so when Tarantino decided to make his Django black as opposed to all previous cinematic incarnations of the character, it didn't suprise me one bit. And when the film ended up criticizing slavery and the Ku Klux Klan, it made all the sense in the world. The white slavers of those days, along with the members of the Ku Klux Klan aren't all that different from Hitler's Nazi's, which Tarantino also criticized with Inglorious Basterds; I think it's safe to say that  Tarantino is concerned with making films that put a magnifying glass on humanities greatest mistakes, a practice that some of the best directors do.          

Same as Spielberg graduated from making Summer Blockbusters to making more serious, socially conscious films with The Color Purple (1985), so has Tarantino. Once upon a time, Tarantino was a filmmaker  more concerned with shock value then anything else. I'm not saying that films like Reservoir Dogs (1992) or Pulp Fiction are empty films, these are some of his best films, truly entertaining. And there's no doubt that they are glorified b-movies, films that sulk in their low brow entertainment roots. But now, it feels to me that with his two previous efforts he's decided to speak his mind against on important issues, things that truly matter in the world. With Django Unchained  Tarantino makes the black man, a slave, the hero of the film. He gives a slave, the power to strike back at those who would treat him as less. In Inglorious Basterds Tarantino changed history and rewrote it in his own way; in Tarantino's universe Hitler and his cronies die burned alive inside of a movie theater, while a Jew laughs maniacally from the afterlife. We all know that's not the way it happened, but symbolically, Tarantino is showing how much he hates antisemitism by burning these truly evil individuals inside of a theater. In this way, he gets a cinematic revenge for all of us, for all the victims and for himself. Django Unchained functions the same way, but with white supremacists, slavers, and the members of the Ku Klux Klan. There is one scene in Django Unchained where Django practically  whips a white racist to death, then shoots him dead. There's such hatred in Jamie Foxx's eyes during that scene, it's as if he was whipping this racist individual for all those who have suffered through out history, an awesome scene! With this film Tarantino is saying "you're wrong and have always been wrong about this, let's whip some sense into ya!" 

But aside from racial issues, the film has some amazing performances all around. I have loved Christoph Waltz performances from the very first time I saw him in Inglorious Basterds (and who didnt right?) but on Django Unchained he doesn't play a villain, instead he plays an extremely likable character, that of Dr. King Schultz, Django's liberator and mentor, what a great character! He is very articulate, very intelligent, very civil, but he wont have a problem blowing your head off if the law permits him to. Jamie Foxx totally commands his character as Django, loved every second of him on screen. He has this attitude to him, first his this angry, scared slave, but slowly he turns into this cocky, black avenger who soon realizes his worth and will take no crap from anybody. And yet another plus this film has going for it is DiCaprio's Calvin Candie. Holy moly what a great character. I've always loved DiCaprio's performances, he has a level of intensity he can reach which is fantastic, and he really channells that anger into this character, so much so that DiCaprio cut himself while filming an angry scene and Tarantino, bless his soul, used that very take. There's a duality to Calvin Candie that I enjoyed, he's a villain, but a nice guy at the same time. Samuel L. Jackson plays an old slave who basically kisses Calvin Candies ass all the time, you'll grow to hate him, but he will also make you laugh. All in all, an excellent cast that makes the film a true pleasure to watch. 

This being a Tarantino film, the high levels of violence displayed here shouldn't surprise anyone. Here the blood flies like there's no tomorrow. This is a revenge film after all, so when the blood must flow, it will, without mercy. The word 'nigger' is also used profusely, an issue that has become something of a controversy, but in Tarantino's defense I will say that the white people of those days probably used the word as much. You can also expect a film that has a well thought out story, with some incredibly good character development; this film takes its time so you can get to know these characters, the dialog will keep you glued to that screen; it's no secret Tarantino has a talent for writing dialog thats just a pleasure to hear, these characters can be so freaking funny at times. Plus, there's cameos galore here! Keep your eyes peeled for Bruce Dern, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, the original Django Franco Nero, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill and Zoe Bell. For lovers of westerns and Tarantino films, this film has tons of treats, you just gotta keep your eyes and ears open. All in all, one of the best films I've seen in 2012, one that's sure to make my top ten of 2012. By the time the film ends, you will have a huge smile on your face and love Django; Jamie Foxx really earned his actors badge with this one. I rarely go see a movie twice the same weekend, but this was one of them. Highly recommended my friends, fun and enlightening at the same time.

Rating: 5 out of 5   


Dan O. said...

It's daring, incredibly well acted, very well directed, and unexpected, making it one of the more memorable cinematic experiences of the year. Nice review Francisco.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Dan O., totally agree, theres a reason why it's making it to every critics top ten, it's a hell of a ride that ends with a bang!

Jack Thursby said...

Damn, got to wait another week until this is out in the UK!

Franco Macabro said...

You'll have a blast with it, it's fun times! Especially since you've been seeing all those old Django movies lately, you'll get a blast at all the inside jokes, there's this one cameo that is as explosive as it is funny! You'll know it when you see it, I was laughing like a maniac.

venoms5 said...

I'm already sure I'm not going to like it, but if anything, it will give me a reason to come home and rewatch Fred Williamson's NIGGER CHARLEY movies and MANDINGO; which this thing riffs off of more than anything resembling DJANGO.

Possibly this weekend I will see it.

Good, energetic review, Fran.

Franco Macabro said...

Give it a chance man, you just might enjoy it! I'd like to check out those films you mentioned. But its true, this movie is more about slavery than anything, which takes a bit of the 'western' out of it. This is probably why Tarantino says he's made a 'southern' instead of a western.


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