Django Unchained, Tarantino at His Best


My enjoyment of Quentin Tarantino’s films is full of contradictions. I generally avoid watching gruesome torture, dismemberment and prolonged suffering (no torture porn for this dame) but I love imaginative storytelling with witty dialogue. In most of Tarantino’s films, the brevity of the ugliness can be managed by closing my eyes to a blurry squint and covering my ears.  My husband thinks it is ridiculous, and for those who know me well, the irony of this behaviour is not lost on me. Is suffering through those ghastly parts worth it — to me? Oh yes, for Django Unchained it most certainly is.

This is a beautifully shot western set in the antebellum southern USA. Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who is purchased by a charismatic German bounty hunter/former dentist Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Dr. Schultz needs Django to identify the soon to be victim for his next bounty, and Django is happy to oblige to gain his freedom.  Along the way a friendship develops between a mentor and his charge, as both men learn about each other’s worlds. Together, they set out to rescue Django’s wife, who has been sold to a place unknown. To pass the time as they strategize, they collect bounties with a stylish yet pragmatic flare. When they finally find her (Kerry Washington in a thankless role), they have to use their wits and their guns to gain the upper hand on her master Monsieur Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his right hand slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

The plot is quaint but the journey I witnessed was one that was peppered with ethical dilemmas and thoughtful discussion. Lofty ideals were abruptly contrasted with spectacular shootouts.

Tarantino’s trade-mark witty dialogue adds dimension to characters that are deliberately written, extremely well cast and remarkably portrayed.  Jamie Foxx is excellent as a down trodden man who we see thrive in the company of a respectful mentor. What can I say about Christoph Waltz that hasn’t been said elsewhere? He has a well deserved supporting actor Oscar for his villainous performance in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.  He brings charm and humanity to the role of Schultz, a man who essentially embraces state sanctioned homicide. Last but not least, what a surprising turn for Leonardo DiCaprio. I don’t think I have ever seen him in such a monstrous role. He excels against type in this film.

Both Django and Schultz are fish out of water as they bond along their journey on a path of righteousness. Schultz is a German immigrant who views slavery as uncivilized and is horrified at the cruelty he witnesses. Django, as a free man, is met with hostility among his kind as well as the white folk. What a complimentary team they make.

This film is not for the faint hearted. I guess it should go without saying (it is a Tarantino film after all) that this film is not only brutally violent at times (justified rather than gratuitous, IMO) but littered with coarse language. The N-word is spewed repeatedly and more violently than the gastric contents of a binge drinking college freshman. As difficult as it is to hear that word with my modern sensibilities, I respect Tarantino’s right to use historically accurate language. This film is authentic in its highs and lows.

Although I love Pulp Fiction (one of my favorite films), this film is Tarantino at his best. At 2h45min, this movie moves at a decent clip and passed Ann’s watch test. Take that — Peter Jackson with all your dithering Hobbits and Dwarves. As much as I love Tarantino’s garrulous dialogue, even I admit it can stretch over the top in his previous films. He takes it down a notch in Django Unchained and nails it. Each character has a distinct voice that rings true. Ok, ok every MAIN character does. The only flaw in the film is Tarantino’s cameo as an Australian slave trader. His accent is simply awful and so unnecessary. Thankfully, this is a minor role and by the time we get there, enough goodwill has been banked. It is a forgivable indulgence.

Who said the western genre is dead? It just needs some new blood, and Django Unchained offers up plenty.


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