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Thursday, January 3, 2013

Movie Review: Django Unchained

Hey there, my fellow denizens of Chaos. I hope you've all had a great New Year, and that 2013 has been treating you right thus far. I'm back, as promised, with my review of Django Unchained. I have been a big Quentin Tarantino fan for years now. His movies are always unique, fun, action-packed, and even thought provoking in incredible, surprising ways. I absolutely love Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. I am also a fan of other things that Tarantino has had a hand in (though he may not have directed), such as From Dusk Till Dawn and True Romance. However, Tarantino has missed for me before- Deathproof was simply not a good movie (though the chase at the end is really thrilling), and Inglorious Basterds, while good, didn't wow me the way other Tarantino films had. So- what would Django be? More Tarantino excellence, or another lesser effort? Let's find out...


You can stop reading after this paragraph if you want- this movie is simply AMAZING. This is both a return to form for QT, and also a bold new evolution that he seemed to be toying with in Inglorious Basterds, but has now perfected here. Django Unchained was one of the most interesting, involving, humorous, compelling, and emotional movie I have seen all year. And I've seen Avengers, Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises, Argo, and Lincoln- all strong movies, for one reason or another (not to say perfect- just they were compelling somehow, with some being stronger/better than others). Django may be the best all round movie this year.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot (as there are some surprises and twists). Basically, a bounty hunter from Germany King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), is trying to track a bounty, and the only one who has information about the marks whereabouts is a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx). Thus, King decides to track down Django, "acquire" him, and use him to find the bounty. However, Django has his own problems. Namely, as a slave, Django has been sold away from his wife, and he desperately wants to find her. King, a German immigrant who loathes slavery, strikes a deal with Django- if the slave helps King hunt his bounties, King will free him and then help him find his wife and free her. Of course, that's easier said than done, as she is owned by a cruel and malevolent slave owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DeCaprio), who owns many slaves, including Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who is unlikely to let her go.

That's all I want to give away about the plot. It's best discovered as an audience member, thrilling to the action, reversals of fortune, and the top-notch drama. The acting is fantastic. In fact, all 4 of the main stars are nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, if I cared about Oscar season at all, I'd say that it would be impossible to pick which should get it, as they are all deserving. Now, Daniel Day Lewis was great in Lincoln, as was Ben Affleck in Argo; however, the four leads here are nothing short of amazing. Foxx shows incredible range, starting off as a broken, beaten slave and growing into a free man, and ultimately hero. Waltz is a revelation here- he portrays his bounty hunter with such humanity, such empathy- an amazing bit of acting. DeCaprio plays against type as the villain, and he is damn good- totally loathsome and vile, and yet charming and intriguing (like the devil himself). Last, but not least, is Sam Jackson, giving a fantastic performance as a fellow slave. Jackson has become a "personality" which often eclipses his performances, but here he really, truly becomes his character, and I was awed by his transformation. I want to discuss on scene in particular where the acting is just transcendent, but I'll do that after my rating if you're interested or have seen it already.

Naturally, just about everything else is great about the movie. The actions scenes are great and very bloody. The camera work is beautiful, epic, and appropriate. The pacing is great throughout, until the very end, where it seems to drag just a bit (typical for Tarantino). The music is an odd mix (again, typical) but generally good. There's a lot of drama here, and everything combines to add to it. Finally, there's the issue of slavery and history itself. While this movie may not be "historically accurate" overall (there's no evidence of Mandingo fighting), however the movie displays the attitudes of the time well, including the little details. Indeed, it shows the complexities of slavery in a way few films have. See, in most movies, slaves are simply victims who need rescuing by noble northerners. However, in this case, African-Americans are empowered in various ways. They can fight back. They can learn and grow. They have hopes and dreams and fears. And some even take advantage of slavery to their own benefit (without giving it away, this is Jackson's character). The movie tackles slavery head on, but in an entertaining way. In fact, the movie is quite brave about it, pulling no punches and becoming subversive (taking on slavery AND how Hollywood and the popular consciousness has portrayed slavery) in the process.

As I said, I don't want to give anything away, so I'll stop here (unless you want one spoiler, after the rating). Suffice to say, this movie was simply amazing. I really can't wait to see it again. I don't have enough good things to say about it. If you love Tarantino, action movies, or just cinema in general, you can't go wrong with this movie. It is one of the best I've seen this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if it got Oscar love, as well as becoming a Tarantino perennial favorite. I give it 4 out of 4 Marks of Chaos.





So, until next time... (Unless you want 1 spoiler).







Still there? OK, so here goes. There was one scene in the movie which was absolutely, totally brilliant. One of the best scenes in a movie in years. Allow me to explain:

Shultz and Django have decided to pass themselves off as slavers, looking to buy slaves to fight each other for sport in order to get to Calvin Candie and rescue Django's wife. They are riding with Candie back to his plantation, when they hear the sounds of dogs barking. Candie stops to see the commotion, and discovers that one of his slaves has run away, and that the dogs and "poor white trash" taskmasters have tacked him down. Candie is furious, having paid a lot of money for this slave, and decides that he should have his dogs tear the slave apart. However, Candie is also doing this as he wants to "test" his new friends. The scene builds in tension. Candie is laughing at the prospect of his dogs feasting on a slave. The taskmasters want to "see a show". Meanwhile, Shultz is looking pained. He is a humane person, and he wants to save the poor slave. Meanwhile, Django is inexpressive. The tension builds, with the three main characters each having an agenda, but this slave is about to die. Finally, unable to sit and watch this atrocity, Shultz exclaims that he'll buy the slave. Candie thinks he's got him, but then Django says coldly- "No, you will not. We only want strong slaves. Kill him. We don't care". And with that, the slave is killed by the dogs. Why did Django do it? It wasn't that he didn't care- he did. He wanted to save that man. But, if he did, Candie would become suspicious, and they would not be able to locate his wife. Django hated doing this, but had no choice. The pain is hidden, but there nevertheless, Foxx being simply amazing at conveying this.

This scene is a marvel of modern film making.  The tension is built until it is unbearable. Each character has two levels to their thought. And there are lives at stake. Django must do the unthinkable if he is to save his wife, and the decision haunts him. And Waltz is an avatar for the audience, looking at this horrible crime, wanting to stop it no matter the cost, just as we surely would. Finally, DeCaprio manifests pure evil, sickening the audience and proving that he is a real threat. The audience is breathless the whole time. It is the most memorable scene in the movie (and there's LOTS of memorable scenes, to be sure), and an incredible piece of cinema. I was speechless after that scene, and I can say nothing better about a movie.

2 comments:

  1. Nobody does style like Tarantino, and his zany slavery Western is nothing if not unabashed style and that was perfect with me. Good review.

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    1. It is indeed zany, but it also has a heart and soul, which is what makes it so compelling. Thanks for the response!

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