Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Django Unchained review

Django Unchained (2012)
Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jaime Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson

A slave named Django (Foxx) is freed and taught to be a bounty hunter, only to use those skills to free his wife from an evil plantation owner.

After making the revisionist WWII film Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino started talking up his next project, a spaghetti western inspired film, that he stated was a "southern", called Django Unchained. Similar to how the Kill Bill films were both a lover letter to spaghetti westerns and to Shaw Bros Kung Fu films, this movie is one the surface an homage to a ton of classic spaghetti westerns, but at the same time it's also a love letter to blaxplotation films. This film mixes then in a great fashion, but at the same time handling it better and being a better movie than the Legend of Charley films of the seventies. This film elevates things like Mandingo fights, dogs mauling people, and other similar exploitative bits of action, making things seem more classier than they are. Violence is both overblown and operatic, with eruptions of blood exploding from wounds, and people comically flying off screen when shot. But it works, and the movie just feels cool and never feels forced.

This is a long movie that doesn’t feel like a long movie. It clocks in at 165 minutes, but breezes by. My only complaint about the time is that I wish the movie had more in it. I would of liked more scenes covering the winter that Django and Schultz spent collecting bounties, but there are other things in the film that make it seem like there was more to it that was lost in the editing. Like why is Amber Tamblyn in the movie? You see her in a window long enough to realize who she is, but then you never see her again. Tarantino has said that he has an extra 90 minutes of footage that he would like to incorporate into a 4 night miniseries version of Django Unchained, which I would love to see, but at the same time I know that he’s also been talking up “Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair” for 8 years now, and with the exceptions of some showings at his New Beverly Theater I don’t think it will ever be released to the public.

Jaime Foxx is incredible as Django. He carries the film in a way that just exudes coolness.  A great example of this is the Blue Boy outfit. The costume is silly at first and played for laughs, but Jaime Foxx is able to own it and look like a badass in it. Even his smile at the end as Candyland explodes is great. It's hard not to like him in this film. He has great chemistry with Christoph Waltz, and part of what's great is just hanging out with these two characters. On of the saddest things about Waltz's move to Hollywood after wowing everyone in Inglorious Basterds is that no one other than Quentin Tarantino has given him a great role*. But his King Shultz is really the friendly heart of the film, and

Another strong thing about the film is the villians, portrayed by Leonard DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. I will admit, after Titanic I kind of wtote off DiCaprio as nothing more than a pretty boy. But this film, along with the films he has made with Scorsese prove that he can do amazing work. I never expected that he was capable of this after seeing him in Titanic. He plays Calvin Candie as a vicious animal, and he seems to be relishing playing such a despicable character. A lot has been said about the scene where talks about Ben in which he slit his hand open on the broken glass while delivering his monologue, but this is a great moment that lives up to the hype. But as bad as he is, Candie still has moments that are fun and amusing, like when he tells his sister "darlin' you are a tonic for tired eyes". And really there is a lot of similarities between Calvin Candie and his protrayal of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street**. Both are bad men are ruled by there pursuit of pleasure.

Samuel L. Jackson's Steven is the other main villain in the film. It's a great role, where Jackson gets to show 2 very different sides, one that is subservient to his master, and another that is sly, sneaky, and calculating. As bad as Candie is, Steven could be seen as worse due to his treatment of his own race. But Jackson is great in the role, disappearing in the role in a great bit of physical transformation, playing the 76 year old slave. His reaction to the death of Candie is one of the funnier bits in the film.

Walton Goggins is good in his supporting role as Billy Crash, but watching it now it seems like a test run for his character in Hateful Eight.

Around the time this film came out, Tarantino started ranting about how much he hates John Ford, mostly due to how he depicted Native Americans in his films. Granted in some of his earlier films you could make that accusation, like in Stagecoach the Indians are presented as a mindless horde that attacks the heroes, or the cartoonish drunk Indians of Drums Along the Mohawk. But as he got older, and most likely got more clout and was able to have more freedom in the stories and characters he presented, he started showing them in a different light. Ford's Calvary Trilogy started presenting them in a more positive light, but The Searchers features Wayne as Ethan Edwards, a racist man who after his family is murdered, goes on a crazed and genocidal quest to find the tribe responsible.  Later in the film we meet his antogonist Scar, whom is given a backstory that presents him as the mirror to that films hero Ethan Edwards. He has his family murder by white men, and that set him on his path that lead to the attack on the farm that began the film. The film also goes to show the atrocities on both sides of the conflict, where we see John Wayne slaughter and scalp Indians, the Comanches murder and rape, and the country's army that kills women and children. And then there's his final film Cheyenne Autumn, a film that seemed like an apology for how he had presented Native Americans, and lead him to say this:
"I had wanted to make it for a long time. I've killed more Indians than Custer, Beecher, and Chivington put together, and people in Europe always wanted to know about the Indians. There are two sides to every story, but I wanted to show their point of view for a change. Let's face it, we've treated them very badly, it's a blot on our shield, we've cheated and robbed, killed, murdered, massacred, and everything else, but they kill one white man, and out come the troops."
But a big part of Tarantino's problem with Ford is the story of him being one of the many extras dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member in D.W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation. This I have a huge problem with. Partially because I know that John Ford and his family immigrated to the states during a time where they had to deal with the rampant racism directed towards the Irish people. But it isn't fair to call out John Ford for a role that he might have played, especially when Tartantino is constantly talks about his love a Rio Bravo, a great movie that features Walter Brennan, a man who told reported that he believed that the civil rights movement was a communist plot to stir up black people, and reportedly "cackled with delight" upon hearing of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. So that brings up a huge problem with Tarantino's John Ford beef. Why hate John Ford for wearing a costume in a movie, but Walter Brennan gets a pass for his horrible actions?

This movie is probably the best and most fun western of the current century. Sure, Hateful Eight is great, and might be better from a technical standpoint, but of the two this is the one that is an easier recommendation. You should still see both, but if some reason you haven't seen this film already you should do so now.

*He's good in the problematic Spectre. For all of it's problems, Waltz isn't one of them.

**The Wolf of Wall Street is one of the finest movies. Of the last decade. Every once and a while Tarantino starts spouting talk about how he's going to stop making films before he gets old, because he doesn't want to be like all the older directors that stop putting out quality work. But TWoWS and George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road are great examples of how wrong he is. Both of those movies are 2 of the most energetic and vital films to come out in a long time.

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