Django Unchained (2012)


Django Unchained

It’s always nice when you can rely on a filmmaker to deliver on every level. This is always true with the talented and genius Quentin Tarantino. “Django Unchained” is every bit an insane, bloody, adventure, as it is an examination of America’s shameful past. The shameful past that I speak of is of course slavery. It is not an easy subject to tackle in an adventurous Spaghetti Western, but like always, he finds a way.

The story of “Django Unchained” begins in 1858, where we meet Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German-born dentist/ bounty hunter who is hunting the Brittle brothers and in need of some assistance. He has manages to track down a slave, the young Django (Jamie Foxx) as he calls him. Django is eager at the prospect of hunting down the three men that abused his wife Hildi (Kerry Washington), from whom he was separated years ago. Schultz loathes slavery and offers Django his freedom in exchange for his help. The promise of freedom and rescuing his wife from the clutches of the truly detestable slaveholder Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) guides Django in his journey.

Tarintino uses his special brand of story telling to bring us a Spaghetti Western for the new generation. His use of genre, homage and original genius is what makes Django Unchained such a joy to watch. It was particularly exciting to see the original Django, Franco Nero, pop up in the film exchanging lines with Jamie Foxx.

There is an endless surplus of talented actors in this film. Foxx does a great job in the title role of a slave turned bounty hunter, but it’s usually Tarantino’s secondary characters that are more interesting to watch. First is of course the talented Christoph Waltz. He was born to read Tarantino’s dialogue. He does it so effortlessly and never misses a beat.

Leonardo DiCaprio is always fantastic as the abhorrent Calvin Candie who enjoys his bone crushing Mandingo fighting. You truly love to hate this detestable slaver. It is one scene in general in which Candie explains, “why the slaves don’t rise up and kill the whites.” This scene takes me back to “True Romance” (written by Tarantino) in a scene where Dennis Hopper explains to Christopher Walken why Italians look the way they do.

But it’s Samuel L Jackson as Candie’s house slave who steals the show. I did not expect his role to be so impactful, but it is. His character reaches new levels of loathsome behavior. Again, you love to hate this character.

The soundtrack and music choices were very interesting. Tarantino is a pro when he mixes pop culture and genre films. But I felt it was a little different with “Django Unchained.” He included everyone form Ennio Morricone to Rick Ross. While I might usually have a problem with the use of Rick Ross in a film like this, it worked quite well. My two favorite musical choices were the opening with the original Django music and the James brown/ Tupac infused song playing in a pivotal gin battle scene. The opening scene really stuck with me because it reminded me of the original 1966 “Django” film , and that’s the point of homage. Paying respect and offering a bit of nostalgia and that is exactly what I felt. With the James brown/ Tupac infused song, I just can’t help grinning when I see Jamie Foxx’s Django enter into a gun battle with the Tupac’s music in the background.
There has been a lot of talk about the use of the “N” word in the film. Most notably from director Spike Lee who calls it “disrespectful.” Lee has not seen the film so I cannot take what he says seriously. But in my opinion, Tarantino is showing the realities and ugliness of that time. We cannot tip toe around the subject. Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes, but in a positive way. I hated the character’s that used it to put down the slaves. My heart went out to them. We have to experience and see what they went through in order to appreciate how they overcame them.

In this film, Tarantino decided not to use the chapter sequence, instead he opts to follow a linear narrative more traditional story line. The story follows a traditional 3 act structure with a beginning, middle, and a climatic end. Django was taught by the best to be the best, and his skills were tested in the last action sequence in which he took on the entire plantation as well as Tarantino’s cameo with the “LeQuint Dickey Mining Company.” Our protagonist, former slave, now freeman, Django successull shows his skill by taking successful killing everyone.

The use of film versus digital film in the film helped with the contrast of color as well as the dynamic range in the film. It’s director of course is an advocate of film and not digital. In an interview he did with The Hollywood Reporter titled “The Directors Uncut” Tarantino shares his opinion about the state of the film industry today. He’s a conventional, old school kind of filmmaker. He loves the use of celluloid film, and the process that goes through it. Film to Quentin Tarantino remains that way, with film and not digital process. He states that if film becomes too much about the media and use of media, he would retire from the business and begin writing novels. His stories are much like novels to begin with, and the way he breaks his films down into chapters just like a novel helps viewers cope with the length of the film.

Tarantino’s films have always impacted me as a filmmaker. They are the shinning example of what a film is supposed to be. It is supposed to be hard hitting, informative, impactful, and gritty. But above all they have to be entertaining. He nails it every time. There has been talk of his retirement and truly I hope I never see the day.