Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: "Django Unchained" is Off the Hook

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 1 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Django Unchained (2012)
Running time: 165 minutes (2 hours, 45 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
PRODUCERS: Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Richardson
EDITOR: Fred Raskin


Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, James Remar, Walton Goggins, Laura Cayouette, and Samuel L. Jackson

Django Unchained is a 2012 American Western film and revenge movie from Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction). Like his previous film, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is an alternate-history movie.

Django Unchained focuses on a slave-turned-bounty hunter who, with the help of his mentor, sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. The name “Django” comes from the 1966 Italian “Spaghetti Western,” Django, which inspired Tarantino’s film. Franco Nero, the actor who portrayed Django in the 1966 movie, also has a cameo in Django Unchained.

The film opens in 1858. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter, buys a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx). Shultz wants Django because the slave can identify the Brittle Brothers, a gang of ruthless killers. Recognizing that the slave’s talents that could make him a good bounty hunter, Schultz offers Django two things: (1) he will free Django and (2) he will help Django find his wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington), who is still a slave. In return, Shultz wants Django’s help collecting bounties.

However, Broomhilda is now owned by a charming but brutal slave owner named Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Candie owns the plantation, Candyland, in Greenville, Mississippi. There, male slaves are trained to fight for sport (“Mandingo fighting”) and female slaves are sold into prostitution. Infiltrating Candyland and collecting Broomhilda will be Django and Shultz’s most difficult bounty.

Now that I look back on Inglourious Basterds, I like it now more than I did when I first saw it back in 2009. I gave it a grade of “B” (6 of 10). Tarantino’s screwball take on World War II history in that movie prepared me for the freedom with history that Tarantino takes with Django Unchained. Of the movies released in 2012, Django Unchained is the best one I’ve seen so far.

As in all his works, Tarantino’s imagination, inventiveness, and, of course, his encyclopedic knowledge of films results in a screenplay full of outrageous notions, scandalous scenarios, shocking sequences, and mind-blowing scenes. So we get great cinema. Tarantino makes spellbinding films filled with hypnotic characters, plots twists, and settings. And Django Unchained is no exception; it is simply great

Django Unchained is essentially three movies: a quasi-slave narrative, a gun-slinging Western, and a revenge movie that come together as a Spaghetti Western, more so than as an American Western film, especially the ones made before the 1960s. This film looks and acts like a Western, only, the cowboy hero is a slave-turned-bounty hunter and the Old West town in need of taming is a Mississippi plantation.

The result of Tarantino’s genius screenwriting is that the actors cast in his films have the material to fashion great characters, regardless of the individual actor’s level of talent. When the talent is Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson, magic happens. Foxx reveals the evolution of Django from slave to free man in a way that allows the viewer to share the change; Foxx makes Django passionate, vulnerable, and a true cowboy movie hero.

I initially was not crazy about Christoph Waltz as the Nazi colonel and “Jew hunter,” Hans Landa, in Inglourious Basterds, but I’ve grown to love that performance. Landa was not a fluke; here, Waltz fashions a man of many of colors in Dr. King Shultz, a performance which deserves at least an Oscar nomination. Leonardo DiCaprio is a blazing star as Calvin J. Candie, simply because DiCaprio creates a monster in Candie by not being what people probably expect – over the top and inflammatory. There is some subtlety, grace, and depth in DiCaprio’s performance here.

Sam Jackson won’t get the Oscar he deserves for creating Stephen, the ultimate / major domo “house nigger” and Candie’s right-hand man. As great as Foxx, Waltz, and DiCaprio are, Jackson creates a supporting character that is as good as the best in American cinematic history. Stephen is so reprehensible and is odious to the point of being intolerable, and the character is embarrassingly real in the context of the history of American slavery. Jackson will likely be left out because the Academy that hands out Oscar nominations will likely pay more attention to Waltz and perhaps, DiCaprio than Jackson. Besides, Stephen may be a bit too much for conservative Oscar voters to take.

But that is the magic of what Quentin Tarantino can create. He is the best director of his generation – better than the likes of such stalwarts as Chris Nolan and David Fincher. Django Unchained proves it.

10 of 10

Saturday, December 29, 2012


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