Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino has a thing for revenge. He's had it in his movies before (like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown), he's built entire movies around it (Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill vol 1 and 2) and he's now added another to his list in the western revenge saga Django Unchained. The story of a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) who's freed by a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who won his second Oscar for working with QT again after Basterds) and subsequently fights to get his wife (Kerry Washington) from the plantation owning Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Throw in Candie's hateable house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and a whole mess of violence and language and anachronistic music and you've got yourself a good old fashioned Tarantino flick. How you feel about Tarantino flicks in general will likely determine whether you like this movie or not.
While I've criticized QT in the past for being a filmmaker who can't get out of his own way, somehow it worked better for me here than it has recently. The overwritten dialog, unnecessary text overlays, cartoonish characters, and padded runtime. None of it bothered me this go round. I think a big reason for that is the actors we've got this time. Sam Jackson has proven himself before to be the one actor who truly makes QT's dialog sing like it should. But Waltz shows again (after being the brightest bright spot in Inglourious Basterds) that Tarantino has found himself another great singer. Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio acquit themselves very well, even if they don't quite take it up to the level Waltz and Jackson are operating on. Jackson, having by far the toughest role to play, somehow comes off as the least cartoonish of the bunch. His Stephen is hateful, insubordinate, whip smart, and has decided if he can't be anything more than a nigger to his white owner, he's gonna be the best nigger a white man could ever want. Looking out for that white man above anything or any other person, skin color be damned. Somehow Jackson makes Stephen proud, pathetic, dangerous, and occasionally hilarious. It may be the best work of this great actor's career.

So, I used "the N word" in that previous paragraph. Tarantino has been in hot water in the past for the use of the word in his movies (specifically in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown) but got in a whole other firestorm of controversy for its use in Django. People didn't seem to care quite as much about whether black people were locked in a hot box in the Mississippi summer heat, or have their heads bashed in with a hammer for the gladiatorial entertainment of aristocratic white folks, or whipped within an inch of their life because they broke an egg, just for God's sake why's he gotta use "nigger" so much? I'll say this about the subject: it was appropriate for the time in which the movie is set, and I guarantee you can put on a Jay-Z or Tupac or damn near any other rapper's album and hear the word as many times as you do here, in half the time. Tarantino doesn't use it flippantly, he uses it provocatively so that we have to confront the hateful word and its use against our fellow human beings. Even in this exploitative genre film, QT doesn't make it all style and no substance. There's some exploration of real stuff here, just wrapped up in a crowd pleasing revenge flick is all.

So anyway, Django is Tarantino's best movie since Jackie Brown, and I hope he stays in top form with his next one.


kathy said...

I enjoyed your review of the film. However, since I am not a QT fan, and wont be seeing the film, I will have to take your word on the worth of the movie!

Johnny said...

Nice, solid review. Jackson's memorable performance was definitely astonishing. I can't even look at him the same way in that commercial he's in now, ha. It was spooky. It's my favorite Tarantino movie now, who I find to be hit-and-miss as a director, but he definitely scored with this one. The only flaw I noticed was the "Return of the King"-like slew of endings (or what I thought was the ending). The duration was intimidating at first but I loved every minute of the movie. The action exploded at the end and was shot insanely and hilariously, gruesome like RoboCop but wild like Tarantino's style. I loved the music (especially the wee-woo whistle song early on). Great performances, wonderful production value too. Everything looked good, and I really liked Waltz's character (haven't seen IB). I also found the "hoods" scene hilarious, typical QT awkward stalling scene.