Saturday, January 19, 2013
Quentin Tarantino is an infamous bad boy of Hollywood, with an unconventional and hyper-violent style that suffuses his films. He usually writes and directs his films and appears in them as an actor as well. He won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction in 1995 and Christoph Waltz won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2010 for Inglourious Basterds.
Tarantino is also well-known as a huge student of film and an aficionado of various (often obscure) movie genres, which he often likes to re-interpret and combine in his creations. Inglourious Basterds is both a revenge fantasy, a Holocaust film and a comedy. (See my review here.)
Ever since it was announced that Tarantino would be following up Basterds with a film about slavery called Django Unchained, fans of his work (including myself) have been highly anticipating the result. Tarantino has long been unafraid to confront race in his films, and non-white actors have often played important roles in his films. There were various rumors about who would play the title role of the ex-slave who carries the film and becomes partners with a foreign-born white bounty hunter who kills American white slaveowners. Various names like Idris Elba (Prometheus, Stringer Bell on The Wire), Will Smith (Men in Black) and Michael K. Williams (Omar on The Wire) were considered but Django was eventually played by Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx and a particularly villainous slaveowner was played by Leo Dicaprio.
Also appearing in the film are a nearly unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson as a "House Slave" who closely identifies with his slaveowner named Calvin J. Candie played by Dicaprio, Kerry Washington as Django's wife named Broomhilda and Waltz as the central character of the German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz.
The story is set in the antebellum South where a German-born dentist (played with relish by Waltz) is making a living as a bounty hunter finding fugitives who are wanted "dead or alive." Since he finds slavery distasteful and treats black people as people and not property, Shultz usually kills the white slaveowners he finds. He connects with Django at the beginning of the film and enlists the slave for assistance in identifying and killing a trio of slaveowners called the Brittle brothers. Django is amazed one can get paid for killing white people and enthusiastically accepts an offer to join forces with Shultz as a bounty hunter ("Kill white people and they pay you for it? What's not to like?")
After an amusing and deadly encounter with the Ku Klux Klan (who are led by the unlikely comedy duo of Jonah Hill and Don Johnson) the two bounty hunters spend a winter together tracking, finding and killing white slaveowners and then Django wants to go rescue his wife from the Mississippi planation called CandieLand where she is located. Shultz realizes how dangerous this is and agrees to accompany Django on his quest to rescue Broomhilda, especially once he learns that she speaks his native language of German, which he has not heard in years and greatly misses.
I don't want to reveal any more of the plot but to say that the film does become a typical Tarantino bloodbath and there are very disturbing depictions of the inhumanity of slavery, especially various punishments such as a Black man being torn apart by dogs, attempted castration (that includes a quite memorable scene of full frontal nudity featuring Jamie Foxx) and a woman locked naked in a "hot box" buried six feet underground.
(A quick note to the potential viewer of the film: the word "nigger" is used almost continuously through the film. I lost track of how many times it is uttered by both black and white characters after counting about 50 occurrences. One thing I did notice about the word is that when it is pronounced with a Southern accent it sounds exactly like the "nigga" that appears in many rap songs. The fact that Tarantino is white and the creative force behind a film suffused with racist acts and dialogue has been a source of controversy.)
Overall, I think Django Unchained is more effective and rewarding an experience than Inglourious Basterds, although that may have more to do with the more intense emotional resonance I have with slavery than with the Holocaust. Both films are over-the-top, blood-soaked pulpy entertainments, but I connect with Tarantino's desire to address sensitive topics through genre films and believe he has done an excellent job. I look forward to seeing what his next film in this series.
Title: Django Unchained.
Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity.
Release Date: December 25, 2012.
Viewing Date: December 28, 2012.
Overall Grade: A (4.0/4.0).