Summary: Tarantino radically reboots, redesigns and redefines Spaghetti Western, rising above plot conventions with risible humor, rambunctious violence and trademark Tarantino-ism
Quentin Tarantino redefines and refurbishes Western Spaghetti genre with ‘Django Unchained‘ the same manner in which he reinforced his Tarantino-ism into ‘Kill Bill‘ thereby redefining Japanese and Hong Kong martial art films, and so in short in both the cases -he kills it (in a good way, that is)! Django Unchained’s plot is hardly novel and Tarantino adheres dutifully to the forms and conventions of the Western genre -even the pre-Civil war backdrop is peripheral in narrating what is basically a revenge saga; I saw Django as the male counterpart of Bride/Beatrix from Kill Bill and Django’s relation with Schultz being similar to Vincent and Jules’ in Pulp Fiction (a diehard Tarantino fan would easily spot more).
But Quentin’s endeavors are much more than ‘recycling or rehashing) -who else shows such panache, such boldness, such passion, such balls to even touch these antique genres and give them such a subversive and transgressive shake they come out brand new as though Quentin was the pioneer of these genres and not those directors who made the movie which inspired the maverick in the first place? Django Unchained, though not as aesthetically and emotionally satisfying as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, is still one hell of a genre-redefining movie which like most Tarantino movies, makes you feel cool and awesome in the end.
The director/scriptwriter never really cared for complex themes (but he could construct his narrative expertly, making the plots seem much more complex than they actually are) and Django Unchained is no exception as a single sentence will be enough to describe what the film’s about: ‘Django, with Dr.Schulz’s help, tries to get his wife back and extract his revenge on those who separated his wife from him’. Now that sounds enough, right? No wait -let’s just change the ‘tries to’ to ‘will do anything to’ -oh yes, that sounds like ‘Tarantino’ film now! Django, played by Jamie Fox, is a slave during the pre-Civil war period who is set free by a German dentist and bounty hunter going by the name of Mr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who appears so overwhelmed during his award speeches it’s a marvel to watch him playing such nonchalant, crafty characters). The German bounty hunter teams up with Django in tracking down (and in all cases, taken down quite brutally) wrongdoers and hunting down the Brittle Brothers who had once owned Django and his wife Broomhilda von Shaft. When the two realize that Broomhilda is in possession of a dangerously and deviously profligate plantation owner Candie (a deadly portrayal by Leonardo DiCaprio), both try to rescue her by duping Candie. But Candie has his own right-hand man, the terrifying senior house slave Stephen (Samuel Jackson, whose appearance caused an excited frenzy among the audiences) who can smell something fishy in Mr. Schultz and Django’s offer and tries to find out whether the slave trade offer is what they have come for.
It does not require rocket-science to figure out how Django Unchained will progress; after every bounty kill, you have a conversation between Django and Mr. Schultz about what do, where to head next, Django’s wife, German folklore etc, mostly taking place at nighttime in lonely rocky areas. And every segment takes longer to end than the previous one until the climax, so the longest duration is spent on the Candie segment. The weapon used is either a shotgun or rifle (you see the insides spluttering out) and a whip in one flashback sequence, but the violence is only marginal compared to Tarantino brings once the Candie segment begins. Then you get a disturbing and sadistic fights, shooting and more shooting –and Tarantino keeps the camera very close to the action so you can get to see blood splashing out as bullets pierce bodies.
Critics have a great number of reasons to attack a movie like this, but they don’t and the reason for this is same that we heard from Tarantino himself in his smug Oscar acceptance speech: “My films have great characters”. I’d add ‘and great conversations on topics you would hardly hear in conventional movies’. Who would have thought that keeping a seven-ten minute sequence of Candie monologuing with a skull (like Hamlet) of the previous head slave, about blacks remaining slaves because of the higher composition of ‘servile’ matter in their brain, would be one of the most memorable sequences from the film? Had any other director read this sequence in the script, he would’ve most probably laughed at it. But Tarantino is one who knows how to make these sequences work, and so he gives us such a depraved and egregious character like Candie to mouth the words that we instantly find it believable.
Both ‘Django Unchained’ and ‘Lincoln’ closely deal with black empowerment, but in Lincoln you only get to see a white man do everything for his black brothers. Tarantino wants the blacks to get their share of revenge, and so he uses the Western genre to directly give a black the chance to win for his brothers. Where else would you get Western where the hero and his love are black? The radical soundtrack, steering from a traditional African sound to country music to modern hip hop, is an indication that you will always get the unexpected from a guy like Tarantino.
Unchained is not emotionally as gripping as Kill Bill, and one reason may be that the protagonist here is a male slave who has seen so much wrong that he is almost apathetic to an extent. But I did feel that Foxx took more time to get in character than Kerry Washington, who’s far more convincing as the beaten-and-broken Broomhilda. You love how subtly Christoph Waltz conveys his character’s tension inwardly when Candie learns of his plan, trying his best not to show his weakness yet you hear is usually-confident voice drop to a whisper. DiCaprio has the mien of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter and mind of Alex from Clockwork Orange, and the actor’s detractors who complain that he’s acting in the same manner in his recent roles will shut up after watching Candie (unless they want Candie to batter their skulls!).
Django Unchained’s a little too long and some scenes stretch out too much (like the handshake scene between Schultz and Candie): Tony Kushner’s script is a tad more worthy of the Oscar than Tarantino’s. Yet Tarantino is one director from whom you’ll always expect the unexpected, and Django is one badass motherf**ker film.
- Oscar Winners In Review – Django Unchained (thepageboywrites.com)
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- Ennio Morricone Won’t Work With Quentin Tarantino Again (slashfilm.com)
- Leonardo DiCaprio undeterred by film violence, says giving full focus helps make great art (canada.com)
- ‘Django Unchained’ – wonderfully witty with gruesome violence (IANS Movie Review) (vancouverdesi.com)
- Django Unchained (2012) – Mini Review (no spoilers) (shinyreviews.wordpress.com)
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- Django Unchained (thefilmlounge.net)