Film Review: Django Unchained
It isn’t often that a director continuously attempts to reinterpret; and almost rewrite history, in such an eclectic and interesting way.
Django Unchained is the new film by writer/director Quentin Tarantino. The film is set in the antebellum south, two years before the civil war. It centres on a bounty hunter by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who purchases and then frees a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx). The pair then embarks on a journey to find and free Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from her owner, the infamous Calvin Candi (Leonardo DiCaprio)
With eight films now under his belt audiences know pretty well what to expect when they enter a Tarantino film; and this film delivers that in an incredibly satisfying way. His use of music is, as always excellent; mixing in music from the 70’s to now as well as some original tracks. The dialog is hugely entertaining and with Waltz and Jackson’s perfect delivery, it feels as if they are singing; each line sticks in your mind like a great lyric from some catchy pop song. The violence within the film is beautifully choreographed and although fans of Tarantino’s action sequences shall certainly not be disappointed they will find themselves waiting a long time for the pay-off this is a very patient film.
Ensemble casts are known for often failing (see: Valentine’s Day); this one however, does not. Each actor seems to fit the part so perfectly. It’s great to hear Samuel L. Jackson reciting the black-sass dialogue of Stephen, the old and disgruntled “head house nigga.” Christoph Waltz’s character is endlessly charming and likeable, giving us a character very different from “The Jew Hunter” (Inglourious Basterds), but all the same just as memorable. It is thrilling to see Leonardo DiCaprio portray the pretentious and evil Calvin Candi who demands he is called monsieur Candi; although not speaking a word of French. It gives us a chance to see Dicaprio play a truly eccentric role that we have really not seen much of since ‘Catch Me if You Can’. Jamie Foxx as Django is interesting, mostly because Django has very little to say or do for the first half of the film. It’s not until the second half that he becomes a more dramatic character, and it is only then that Jamie Foxx creates anything truly memorable.
The most impressive (and surprising) thing about Django Unchained is just how mature the film is. For a director who started in twisted crime pictures and has since moved into genre cinema; this film shows Tarantino’s evolution as both a film maker and writer. The film features a moment in which Django is supposed to kill a father for a bounty because he was, at one point in his life a train robber and murderer. Django hesitates to do so. The conversation that follows and the thoughts it provokes is fascinating. This is one of a few times in Tarantino’s 20+ years as a writer that he has asked important questions about morality in such a serious way.
Visually, the film is incredibly sophisticated. This is especially seen in its use of set pieces and lighting. Tarantino plays with shallow focus in his conversational scenes and shows off the gorgeous candles and dinnerware of the period in a beautifully choreographed table dressing scene (with music to match!). On top of all this Tarantino is still one of an increasingly small number of directors who refuse to shoot on digital and it shows in the films stunning imagery.
Like Inglourious Basterds in 2009, Tarantino has taken an important and horrific time in history and use it as a setting for telling his fictional redemption story. There are those that have criticized him for doing this because he toys with history so it suits him; he is self-indulgent. Whether it be his operatic use of violence or the hyper-real (and often humorous) way his dialogue and characters are constructed. However, with all the exaggerations and comic-styling we have come to expect from a Tarantino film, Django Unchained is possibly the most sophisticated and mature film we have seen from the 49 year old.
Balancing the delivery of a truly enthralling and entertaining film, whilst not ignoring the important subject matter and the questions it evokes, Django Unchained is a film that succeeds in both providing film-goers a fun ride, but also portrays the subject of slavery in a way that we have never really seen. The overall result is both respectful and thought-provoking.