Review backlog entry no. 1. Originally written in 2013.
Django Unchained is quintessential Quentin and it delivers in a way only Tarantino can deliver. As with all of his directorial endeavours, Tarantino fittingly adopted a shackles are off, anything goes mentality. This mentality in the case of Django Unchained effectively translated on-screen to a gripping, extravagant, bloodthirsty, perfectly paced, often-humourous escapade with a serious political undercurrent that is thoroughly enjoyable. It is most definitely history altering, indulgent, audacious and continually outrageous, but it does make for spectacular viewing.
Django Unchained is a Spaghetti Western genre mash-up written and directed by Quentin Tarantino set in America’s Deep South in the year 1858, two years before the Civil War. It follows Django, a slave given his freedom by a German-born dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz, due to Schultz requiring Django’s assistance in identifying the murderous and ruthless Brittle brothers. Whilst sharpening up on his bounty hunting skills, taught by Schultz, Schultz comes to learn about Django’s wife, Broomhilda and his desire to track down and rescue her from captivity. Their adventure eventually steers them in the direction of a plantation, Candyland and its brutal proprietor, Calvin Candie, who Django and Schultz come to learn to be Broomhilda’s current owner. Masked with an entirely fabricated charade, Django and Schultz gain access to Candyland but a bitter and hateful house slave called Stephen becomes wary of their true intentions.
Christoph Waltz as the witty bounty hunter with a history in dentistry, Dr. King Schultz is the standout performance of the film, on top of several other excellent character portrayals, notably Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of brutally villainous yet subtly charming plantation owner, Calvin Candie. It is important to add however that the heavyweight performances given by Waltz and DiCaprio do in no way over-roar or overshadow Jamie Foxx’s slave-turned bounty hunter, Django, he more than holds his own when it could have been so easy to have slipped under the radar and be forgiven, given that the cast assembled for this movie is so stacked. Samuel L. Jackson is the despicable, bitter and foulmouthed bootlicker house slave Stephen. Jackson and DiCaprio characterize a certain rapport between one another, this tells of a significant backstory between Stephen and Candie, which adds even more to the movies already substantial intrigue. However, Kerry Washington seems at times slightly insipid and a bit bland as Broomhilder, especially for a Tarantino movie, but she ups her game when necessary.
With historical emphasis placed on Quentin Tarantino's last outing in that of Inglourious Basterds and on his latest project, Django Unchained, what immediately springs to mind is this guy would have been a cool history teacher. Only Tarantino could address Nazi Germany and pre-Civil War human trafficking so elaborately in successive films. Django unchained similar to Inglourious Basterds is a quirky, unconventional somewhat peculiar look at Quentin Tarantino's view of history. This movie provides an alternate depiction of the unapologetic world of human trafficking and slavery in the Antebellum Era of America’s Deep South. Tarantino constantly reinvents fictional story-telling and takes it to a whole new level, Django Unchained is no different.
As the film progresses it does not suffer from its 2 hour 46 minute running time. Given the considerably lengthy running time you would think your attention and will-power would be tested, however Tarantino has an ingenious way of making often over-the-top and sometimes excessive erudition engrossing and absorbing; a character building ploy that can be hit or miss, but Tarantino seems to hit it out of the park more often than not.
The landscape of the movie is changed with a single handshake but the dynamic remains consistent, with the conflicting motives of love and revenge driving the film to an ultra-violent, blood-soaked conclusion. In this midst of this, Tarantino injects himself into proceedings just as it is conceivable that the movie is calming down somewhat, however, it manifested to be that this was simply the calm before the blood drenched storm. In addition to this, just as you think the movie is reaching a natural plateau, it immerses you in yet more blood-splattering action that will keep you hooked until the end and will leave you devilishly wanting more when it's over. It is important to profess nevertheless that the more pedestrian moments do not hurt the movie in any way attributable to Tarantino's knack of being able to gradually build tension and intrigue.
On the contrary, it is also understandable that this movie may not be to everyone’s taste, given its uncompromising and unrelenting in-your-face nature. Riddled with racially charged profanity it is easy to see why some people may take offence, and therefore not engage fully with what the film is trying to convey. Does Django Unchained transgress and at times cross the line? Certainly, but Tarantino has made a career out of crossing the proverbial line, and his expertly placed humour helps to soften the blow so to speak.
When all is said and done, it ultimately boils down to a significantly important movie about pre-Civil War slavery, executed in a cartoonish, unorthodox yet alluring fashion befitting of the movies outlandishly eccentric dialogue, extraordinary settings and charismatic character portrayals.
As with the other screenplay scripts Tarantino has penned, Django Unchained’s dialogue is uniquely erudite and provoking in the best sense of the word; and also intelligently witty particularly for Dr. King Schultz’s dialogue. The cinematography is outstanding, the lighting is fitting to each scene, and the satirical, parody-like whip sounds and sudden zooming in that are customary with old school westerns are just brilliant. Django Unchained is also stylistically revolutionary; the striking costume designs are daring and radical but all unquestionably add to the originality of the film. The soundtrack is superb; it captures the essence of the movies unabridged flamboyance and greatly compliments the ambiance and mood of each scene. Django by Rocky Roberts & Luis Bacalov, and the original song, 100 Black Coffins by Rick Ross that was composed specifically for this movie are the standout tracks of the Django Unchained soundtrack.
Django Unchained can justifiably be considered as one of Tarantino's best, perhaps on par with Pulp Fiction, but what is unquestionably clear is that he still has the ability to make a film that gets people talking; controversy creates cash, and in Tarantino’s case a lot of cash. The D may indeed be silent, but the voice of Tarantino’s filmmaking craftsmanship is as loud as ever.
Written by Matthew Todd