Monday, 28 January 2013

Django Unchained

Academy Award Nominations: 5

·         Best Picture
·         Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz)
·         Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino)
·         Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson)
·         Best Sound Editing

In the Deep South of America, before the Civil War and before the slaves were freed by President Lincoln, Django has just been sold away from his wife, Broomhilda, to the Speck brothers. However, Dr King Schultz is interested in acquiring Django for his own purposes; giving to him his freedom and getting Django to help him track down bounties in his role as a bounty hunter. After Schultz and Django spend the winter together, tracking bounties, Schultz agrees to help Django find his wife and reunite the pair when the snow melts. Their hunt leads them to Candyland, a plantation where Broomhilda is being kept as a slave of Calvin Candie, a charismatic but ruthless slave owner with a passion for ‘mandingo fighting’, slaves trained to fight to the death for entertainment purposes. Under the guise of mandingo fighter buyers, Django and Schultz devise a plan to enter Candyland and free Broomhilda once and for all…

Quentin Tarantino. The mere mention of his name evokes the strongest, most polarising reactions from film scholars, academics and fans alike. Most people know what to expect now from a Tarantino film. Plenty of over the top violence, plenty of stylish dialogue which make all of his characters sound like they’ve worked in a video store ala Tarantino, and plenty of historical inaccuracies in order to tell the story he wants to tell the way he wants to tell it, all played out through a number of recurring actors and actresses who act to constantly inspire Tarantino and help to bring out the best in one another. He’s had his muses in the past; Michael Madsen inspired him to create some memorable characters, Uma Thurman helped him create characters and films that’ll stick in the minds of many, but in his latest muse, he may have found the person who’s bringing out the absolute best in him, and he’s delivering some unbelievable roles to this man: Christoph Waltz.

Inglourious Basterds lived or died on whether Tarantino could find the right man to play Hans Landa, and he found him in Christoph Waltz. However, Django Unchained gave Tarantino a new, more exciting challenge. Now he had his new muse, he could write a role specifically tailored for him, and boy does he deliver with Dr King Schlutz. Fantastic storytelling for once played out through some superb dialogue and another fantastic Waltz performance. And it’s not just Waltz who shines here. It seems Waltz’s influence is rubbing off on Tarantino’s writing process, however, as he gifts fantastic roles for and coaxes some excellent performances out of Leonardo Di Caprio as Calvin Candie and Samuel L. Jackson having more than a cameo role for the first time in a Tarantino film since Jackie Brown playing Stephen, Calvin’s staunchly loyal if slightly decrepit house slave. They’re two great and one phenomenal supporting performance, so one would assume that Django, Jamie Foxx, our leading man, would have the best role of them all? Umm, not so much…

If anything, the character Django is here to play two roles. One, to bring the film in line with a history of Django films which Tarantino is aiming to pay homage to and recreate the style of, and two, to bring together all of the other fantastic roles he’s written. It just seems that Django is the generic Tarantino cool black guy, there’s nothing exceptional about the character like there is in Schultz, Candie, and Stephen. He’s a strong leading man, and you certainly can’t help but his impact washed out by those other three supporting characters. It’s a shame, but that’s just how it is. In all fairness, when Django is on his own or when he’s with Stephen who he has great chemistry with, Jamie Foxx is allowed to shine and is captivating, but he becomes a supporting character to Schultz and Candie here, and often a support to the cameos by Jonah Hill (Did YOU know he was in this film?) and Tarantino himself.

Tarantino seems to have altered his usual visual style with Django as well as he attempts to make the spaghetti western he tried and failed to make with Kill Bill Volume 2. There are no overhead tracking shots at play here, instead a number of pull zooms in the style of old school spaghetti westerns or the low budget Django films of old. The gore is more over the top here than usual as well, as any gunshot is followed up by what seems to be a balloon full of blood bursting into the air, and people getting blown away beyond reality. It’s over the top but it fits the style of what he’s trying to achieve and so it works in a strange way. The film also looks great and keeps up a good pace, which was a worry of mine given this would be the first Tarantino film since the untimely passing of Sally Menke, Tarantino’s usual editor, but Fred Raskin steps up from assistant to lead editor and makes Django look fantastic.

Overall, Django is extremely entertaining if a little misguided in whose story Tarantino is trying to tell. The visual style is refreshingly different for him and the dialogue has never sounded better coming from the mouths of Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo Di Caprio. It’s not a usual Tarantino effort, but at the same time it is, it’s a strange hybrid of new, old and old which he pulls off with aplomb. There’s a worry that this three hour film contains a few scenes that could have been cut out, maybe the first hour could have been shorter, but ultimately it helps to build up his lead characters so it’s easily justifiable. Will this win Best Picture? No, because it’s a Tarantino film. Should it? Based on what I’ve seen, then yes, yes it absolutely should. My love and hate for Tarantino comes and goes with every release of his. Django may have just swung my love for his work permanently to the good side.

Rating: *****

Django Unchained was released on 18th January 2013 and is still being shown in cinemas.

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