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Monday, January 7, 2013

Django Unchained - Review (2012)

There are films that tell a story and there are filmmakers that sell you a story.  Quentin Tarantino is the Dr. Frankenstein of film combining elements of multiple genres to create a one-of-a-kind monster to sell you.  The latest monster is called “Django Unchained.”  And what a monster it is.  A mash-up of spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation, slavery, extreme violence, romance, black comedy and revenge flicks (and possibly more) that satisfyingly delivers one hell of a film that gains momentum, evolves and grows until the violent climax.  

For the last decade or so Tarantino’s films have been solely focused on revenge.  This time he tells the tale of a slave named Django (the D is silent) whom had been stripped away from his wife and forced to watch her be beat and branded after a failed attempt to escape.  Whom while in transport, a long, treacherous, painful walk chained to several other slaves, Django (Jamie Foxx) comes across a silver tongued dentist, Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz.)  Dr. Schultz is not exactly what he first seems to be; his speech may be civil, but his actions are deadly - he is actually a bounty hunter in disguise.  They team up, working together to track down a group of loathsome men to kill and collect reward on.  While doing so the two bond, Schultz offers to teach Django the tricks of the deadly trade and offers to help reunite him with his wife.

The film is full of fine acting.  Jamie Foxx does quite a bit of acting with just the use of his eyes - you can feel the blood boiling under his skin and you do not to hear him say a word to prove it.  One issue I did have with Foxx’s performance was his accent, not only was it all over the place, when it was on it did not seem the proper accent for a slave of his position during that era.  Even with a solid performance he is outshined by both a charismatic Leonardo DiCaprio and an almost unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson.  There is one performance that stands out from the rest.  One of my single favorite pieces of acting this decade and possibly ever, Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz.  From the first few words he speaks in the opening scene I was captivated.  He is what separates this film from every other shoot-em-up film of the past, he offers a clever, eloquent speaking, intelligent character in a world full of savagery.  When he starts speaking it is like a snake charmer controlling both the other characters and the audience with his oh so polite use of the English language.  This performance is even better than his Academy Award winning role in “Inglorious Basterds.”

The film provides a unique experience, this is not just another slavery film that plays on the emotions of the viewers like some sort of made for TV movie of the week, nor is it a dry history lesson.  This an extremely difficult subject filmed under the helm of a master entertainer.  We are gifted with a thought provoking, unsettling, cringe inducing look at racism and at the same time an often hilarious, action packed buddy revenge film.  There is a massive amount of violence on screen, even for a QT film, but the violence often drives home the message.  I found myself affected on a much more visceral level by the violence and despicable treatment of the slaves than any previous film about the subject.  It clicked with me.  Maybe it was because it was delivered in a much easier to swallow form than the melodramatic or options of past.

As for the excessive use of the N word and the general discussion about men as property, at first it can be very unsettling, when said with malice it always is.  But somewhere along the way it loses its power because you realize that those who use it are ignorant fools and like your drunk uncle spewing advice after Thanksgiving dinner and dozen Jack and Cokes, their words carry little weight.  I am sure many people will disagree with me, which is your right to do so.  I found the usage to only create more hatred toward those that uttered it.  I did not walk out of the theater and start using the term.  If anything it made me question others’ nonchalant use of it in films, TV and in rap music.  Where they tend to disarm the word, this film gave it weight - made you hate it for the vile connotation behind it.

The cinematography is wonderful, capturing the vast American landscape scene by scene as if planning to paint them on a canvas.  There are scenes obviously inspired or maybe better yet borrowed from classic westerns.  It also provides the funniest Klan scene since “Blazing Saddles.”  Yes, that’s right, a hilarious Klan scene.

The film does so much right, that when QT does make a misstep or two they stand out.  It is also full of cameos and familiar faces - some that work, others not so much.  The film is pretty much smooth sailing until it reaches what should be its climax and mistakenly is extended, ending the nearly perfect pacing up until that point.  This is the biggest detriment to the the film.  It is not as if what is left there on screen is not entertaining, it just would have been a tighter picture with a more direct conclusion.  And for the first time QT failed on his music choices for the soundtrack, the modern music did not sit well with me - it felt off.  

How does this film compare to his previous work?  Does it really matter?  This is a great film that has much to explore, contemplate and discuss.  It will be difficult to consume for many because it is focused on one of the most vile times in American history.  Slavery is not fun.   And somehow this film is.  

8.5 out of 10

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