Sunday, June 16, 2013

Django Unchained (Delayed Review)

Written December 28th, 2012

Anticipating a film’s release can be very exciting as studios slowly tease us with posters, stills, teasers, and eventually full theatrical trailers. All this consumption filling out minds with tastes of what is to come, as we discuss and analyze our predictions and theories. Yes, it is all very exciting right? Well there is another term I sometimes use for this, and it’s called “Torture”! However with Django Unchained I am proud to say I somehow found a way to keep myself calm and collected, and didn’t let the excitement get the better of me. Maybe it was the already established excitement during the earlier months of 2012 as I knew that The Avengers, and The Dark Knight Rises would also be happening. Or perhaps it was my own anticipation filled personal life as we were busily planning for the arrival of our first born, you know, real life priorities.  Either way, the wait for ‘Django’ to arrive was a fairly calm one….that is until about two weeks before its release, when the shackles that held my excitement at bay were themselves, “unchained” (I do apologize for that), this is when I pretty much lost my mind with excitement, so much that I boldly predicted that this would be my favorite Film of 2012, and maybe just possibly it could take the “Favorite Tarantino film” title away from Pulp Fiction. Well, Django Unchained is my favorite film of 2012, but “Pulp Fiction” still remains comfortably rested atop its mighty throne. But I tell you, Django put up a mighty good fight.

If you haven’t already seen Django Unchained (what’s wrong with you!?), I will give just a brief synopses, trust me, the less I say here the better your experience will be. Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz; a dentist turned bounty hunter who is after a big catch, The Brittle Brothers. Problem is he doesn’t know what they look like. So he seeks out the assistance of a man named Django, a slave who he knows used to occupy a former Plantation the Brittles worked on. His plan is simple, purchase Django as his own personal slave, something he admittedly feels guilty for as he does not like slavery. Once he was legally acquired young Django, they will travel to various Plantations in search of the Brittles, and once they find them Django will point them out, and Schultz will kill them. In exchange for his help, Schultz will then give Django his freedom and a cut of the bounty. Throughout their travels they begin to form a bond, and when Schutlz finds out that when Django is awarded his freedom, he plans to travel to Mississippi to find and free his captive wife, he feels obligated to help. He will use his own cunning and skillsets to take Django under his wing, train him, and in the spring help him find and free his wife.  

‘Django Unchained’ is a masterpiece; in fact I would go as far as to say it’s a near perfect film. From the exceptional storytelling and direction, to the brilliant performance by the entire cast there is not a single aspect of the film that I did not completely adore, in fact managed to watch it twice and enjoyed it even more the second time. In fact my only complaint about this film is that it was cut too short. It already clocks at approximately two and a half hours, but I have already seen and heard some key moments that were cut from the final version that would have really fit in nicely, some to simply help fill a few minor gaps and carry the story even smoother along.  Expect plenty of deleted scenes to accompany the Blu-ray release.
The first thing to make note of about Django is the similarities to Tarantinos last film, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, and to some extent his ‘Kill Bill’ saga. Yes, there are a lot, but that is not a bad thing at all. Like the previous films this is a tale of revenge, perhaps a more romantic tale to say the least. Like The Bride, and Shosanna before him, Django has had unthinkable evil  done to him and those he loved, and has made it his mission to strike back against those who inflicted those evils upon him. On a larger scale, and like ‘Basterds’, it’s also a story of a persecuted group rising up and fighting back against a greater evil. With a satisfying result that would make anyone want to stand up and cheer. 

The similarities don’t end there, there are many stylistic similarities to Basterds and Kill Bill that stand out immediately, as well as a similarly wonderful soundtrack which once again borrows very effectively from the great Ennio Morricone, and  this time a couple of welcome Luis Bacalov tracks from the original 1966 ‘Django’ film starring Franco Nero (who makes a cameo). These similarities do not come as a surprise, Tarantino himself has made mention of a ‘spiritual trilogy’ which may later include an Inglourious Basterds sequel which has been written. The past decade has seen what we could even call a collection of “New wave Tarantino” films which started with Kill Bill, and has continued through to Django Unchained. If you were to marathon through his directorial catalogue you will notice that his early works (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown) are also very similar to each other, and share a lot of very definitive traits, from the editing style, and repeated cast, to the memorable soundtracks. There are many Tarantino fans in the world and among many of those fans there seems to often be a divide between his early films, and the latter ‘Revenge films’. Perhaps we will get another of these films with a Basterds sequel, or perhaps with his next outing we will see an entirely new side of Tarantino.

One thing that Tarantino has been able to do masterfully throughout all his films is to compile an amazing cast, which mixes superstars with forgotten icons, and he always manages to bring out their absolute best.  The results in the past included reviving the forgotten John Travolta back to superstardom in Pulp Fiction, and introducing the world to Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. This cast is no exception. Tarantino can write for Christoph Waltz like no other, the way that man delivers his lines shows that this is a writer/actor relationship that we rarely see, and perhaps we haven’t seen since Tarantino wrote the Jules Winnfield character for Sam Jackson in Pulp Fiction (another career making role). And speaking of Mr. Jackson, this is his finest performance since then. Sam Jackson has become a household icon, but he has become so for a very specific reason, for being a bad-ass, which originates from that Jules Winnfield role. Furthermore,  “Mother F***er” has become his catch phrase, so much so that whenever he has appeared in a film(and he has been in many)that he is not playing a bad-ass, or I guess a Jedi, it gets completely overlooked and forgotten. With his performance in Django Unchained as Stephen the House Slave of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie character (more on him soon); he has finally been able to stretch his acting skills to an audience that will take notice. Because Sam Jackson is indeed a great actor, and can achieve so much more than just yelling “Mother F***er” and shooting dudes. Though you may ask, “Does he say it in this film?” ….watch and find out.

Other noteworthy performances come from Kerry Washington who plays Djangos captive love, and does for the most part play a rather straight role. Walton Goggins as the disgustingly brilliant Plantation hand Billy Crash, as well as dual roles from the great James Remer. There are a few other great cameo appearances that I will refrain from mentioning, for those who may not have seen this, or dissected the Django Unchained IMDB page.

All that said, I think my favorite character and performance of this film comes from Leo DiCaprio, who I have been a big fan of for a long time. When I first read he would be playing a vicious Plantation owner in Tarantinos new film I was floored. DiCaprio has had a share of darker roles in his time, but never has he played a villain, and to be able to jump into this new type of role as the truly despicable Monsieur Calvin Candie, is impressive. His performance left me breathless, there is one particular scene later in the film when we see the seeming polite and collected Calvin Candies true colors shine through, which literally gave me chills, and was easily the best scene in the film.

This brings me to our lead, the man of the hour, Jamie Foxx. I have always liked Foxx, and during his decade plus run as a serious Hollywood actor, he has been his share of great films that I have always enjoyed. Though this role was actually written for Will Smith, I think Foxx was the perfect choice for Django. Smith is just too much of a family friendly household name, and this character would be too far out of his element to take on (though his exact reason for dropping out I do not know). Foxx however carries about him a perfect image, and attitude to take this role and run with it. His transition from lowly slave, to gun slinging hero is played to a tee, and is completely believable.

To be bluntly honest, Django Unchained has a lot of brutality, and imagery that will not be for everyone, and will not play kindly to a lot of sensitive viewers. Tarantino does not hold back on anything, there is plenty of the “N word” used throughout the film both on a casual, and demeaning manor, and some of the more  disturbing scenes in the film are some of the most brutal I have seen. I am not talking about bloody over the top violence like what we see in Kill Bill, I am talking about the moments of pure reality, the moments that without a doubt happened plenty, and to be honest from what I have read was actually much worse and more frequent then is ever discussed in school text books and television documentaries. For this I respect Tarantino greatly, even though he has gotten a lot of flak for this it is all necessary for this film to work. The final scenes and some of the conflicts and resolutions would not have nearly the same emotional impact if we did not first become exposed to these horrors. It’s a price to pay as the viewer to really appreciate the films amazing climax.

-Jeff Wildman