Django Unchained (2012)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Running time: 165 minutes
Now Showing’s Oscar Season continues with a film that has been nominated for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay. I went into this film with an air of caution as I have a mixed history with films directed by Quentin Tarantino. I either love and lavish them as strokes of genius (Death Proof, Pulp Fiction) or I feel unimpressed and merely see them as decent (Reservoir Dogs). But if he was concerned, Quentin can rest easy: Django Unchained was quite good.
Now Showing this week is (obviously) Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino. Django tells the story of an African American slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in 1858 who, upon being rescued by and teaming up with a bounty hunter named Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), has set out to rescue his wife, a fellow slave named Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Broomhilda has been purchased by an incredibly racist plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and who won’t give her up easily. What follows is a game of deception between the two parties and, in true Tarantino fashion, large amounts of blood.
The first thing I would say about Django is that it looks fantastic. Tarantino definitely has a style in the look of his films, a style that comes from his proclaimed love of Western and Kung-Fu movies. And Django being the first film Tarantino has made that actually is a Western (that is a film set in the Old West, during the late 1800’s), this style suits the film perfectly. This stylised aesthetic is coupled with a beautiful motif of white guilt with recurring shots of blood splattering onto gorgeous white canvases, be them flowers or horses, as though to symbolise that all the blood spilled in this era stains the white man’s hands. Artistically, Django Unchained is a marvel.
The performances in the film are also top notch. Foxx’s Django is determined yet naive, and his descent into badass-ery was a joy to watch. Waltz’s Dr. Shultz made for an excellent partner in crime for Django; bringing his own comedic touch to the contract killer with a heart of gold. My personal favourite was DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, a man so repulsive and devilish, yet fascinating to behold as a good villain should be. For DiCaprio’s first effort as a villain, it was high quality work. And Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson brings his trademark cynicism, bewilderment and cruelty to the role of Stephen, Candie’s right hand slave. Suffice to say, the cast of the film is a great ensemble, making for a compelling film with a cast of colourful characters.
Django Unchained does run for a little longer than I would have liked. That’s not to say that the film became bad or boring towards the end, quite the opposite; I just found that the movie climaxed twice. And once the first climax had occurred I expected the credits to roll after a fade to black only for the film to fade back in to what seemed like another whole act of the story! It was not a bad conclusion, but the feeling was akin to that of watching the end of The Lord of the Rings: expecting it to end after a lengthy run time, only for it to trick you and continue for another twenty to thirty minutes. As well as that narrative stretch, I feel that while most every scene was necessary to the plot, most scenes could have been tightened to shorten the running time. There was a bit of fluff to every scene.
But you can all rest assured, Django Unchained is a great film, one of Tarantino’s best. At long last Tarantino has made a Western (or a “Southern” as he likes to call it, it being set in the American South after all), a genre he was born to work in. His aesthetics, and style of violence, lend excellently to the genre and should not be missed. However, while the writing was excellent for the most part, if I never hear the word “nigger” ever again, it will be too damn soon!
See you next time!