300. Django Unchained (USA 2012)

 

Director/Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Jamie Foxx,  Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Samuel L Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio

Music:  various

Editor: Fred Raskin

Cinematography:  Robert Richardson

Bit Part:  Bruce  Dern, Franco Nero

FACT: Tarantino and costume designer watched lots of episodes of Bonanza for Django's wardrobe.

LIE: Tarantino couldn't secure the rights for 'White Christmas' - he wanted a winter scene where Schulz loses his voice  - and for the tagline 'Bing sings, but Waltz disnae!"

 

In One Line: an ex-slave turns bounty hunter in order to find his wife

 Summary

King Schulz (Waltz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter, saves and frees Django (Foxx) from a shackled slave line being transported by the despicable Speck brothers. Shultz befriends and trains Django and after a winter of bounty hunting, the two men go on a quest for Django's wife Broomhilda (Washington).

Their search takes them to Candyland, the Mississippi plantation of Calvin Candie (DiCaprio) and his sinister senior house slave, Stephen (Jackson).

Schulz and Django's elaborate ploy to buy the freedom of Broomhilda starts to go very badly wrong....

 *********************

A very troubling film - as is the norm for Tarantino. The 'n' word done to death, ghastly violence as entertainment (I think the 'Mandingo' fighting scene is as vile as anything I've seen in a long time), and very silly superhero shoot outs to negate the more serious points made about slavery and America's dark history.

And yet, the usual technical brilliance, fabulous set-pieces, laugh-out-loud visual and verbal wit and Tarantino's cinematic box of tricks remind you that you are watching a great film maker at work.

If it does anything, the film reminds the audience of the horror of slavery simply by exposing you to the sights, sounds and practices of human cruelty and evil. Film maker Spike Lee has refused to see the film stating that slavery was a 'holocaust' and 'not a spaghetti western'. I couldn't disagree with this, but if you are going to remind people of the cruelty and vile deeds and degeneration of human kind, then (perhaps) popular culture is a good way of focusing the mind. Roots did it for me and millions of others in the seventies, and Django Unchained is at least addressing a subject that has fallen into abeyance in a way that the World War II Holocaust has not. The very concept of slavery and the horrific practices depicted in the film DID have/had an almost visceral effect on me, but like Lee, I was a little repulsed by the cartoon/pulp stylings of much of the rest of the film.

Waltz is the star of the film. His precise enunciation of the language in immaculate - and often very funny. The calm swagger he brings to the role is a delight and his reading of Tarantino's dialogue in the early sections of the film is a real joy - and so it is a pity that his loquaciousness is ditched in favour of repetitive bloodletting as the film progresses.

The film is a very long-haul affair. Foxx is quite obviously a star and Jackson's sinister 'Stephen' is all you would expect from this brilliant actor. I'm still not sold on DiCaprio. He's technically proficient (I suppose), but you never get the sense that he's doing anything other than acting. There is not a great deal for the women to do in this film, and I too was as troubled as one reviewer when he saw that the comedy murder of one particular female character was greeted by Tarantino fans with "a whoopin' and a hollerin' with delight".

Django - loved his 'Everton suit', but drew the line at Kenwright's shitty design for the new badge

The fairly wild and often incongruous changes in tone would lead to dog's breakfast/curate's egg accusations for any other director, but Tarantino gets away with it, as usua,l in a film that is not as accomplished as Inglourious Basterds and (for me) a film which is ultimately a disappointment as it descends into overblown shoot-outs and pyrotechnics.

Without giving the plot away, any film-maker who ends his/her film with gun battles and/or explosions is generally lacking in story-telling imagination, or is lazy, or has simply run out of ideas.

A pity, because much of Django Unchained is terrific, and reminded me of why I love film so much.

 

7.5/10

 

 

May 28th 2013