Monday, January 28, 2013

Review of Django Unchained

Warning: may contain spoilers…

I am a Tarantino fan, with a love of spaghetti westerns, and so had high expectations for this latest creation. I confess to being worried however about the horror of the subject matter and by the time we were in our cinema seats was anxious about how violent the movie might be – it has been a while since I saw something like this on the big screen.

In the end I only had to shield my view during two scenes (the dog attack and the Mandingo fight) and I thoroughly enjoyed pretty much every other moment of the film (which ran to nearly three hours).  It would have been hard to see where this time could have been cut down.  The director makes every moment of the film work hard.  There were some rumblings about this production suffering, as it is the first of QT’s feature films not edited by Sally Menke, but I found it to be very impressive and certainly on a par with Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds (which I adored).

There is masses of laugh-out-loud humour and Christopher Waltz’s character is so charming that it makes for an easy watch. Jamie Foxx takes a while to grown into his part but this may have been deliberate as it builds to a fantastic climax and leaves the viewer feeling exhilarated and satisfied with the turn of events.  Visually gorgeous but without the cinematography distracting from the story development.

I was relieved to find Tarantino does not exploit the violence of slavery – to me it seemed he showed just enough to convey the atrocities and injustices but without ever wallowing in it.  Even the excessive use of the N-word was not as troubling as I had feared – it just serves to illustrate how commonplace and ludicrous it was in that era.

My only real criticism would be the weakness of the female characters – they were mostly inconsequential, including the mysterious woman tracker with her face covered by a bandanna.  I also thought the ‘dream’ sequences, where Django sees Broomhilda in his mind, were pointless – they did not add anything to the narrative.  I worried that QT may be showing us Django’s wife as he remembered her because we were about to see her after being brutalised and physically damaged.  When we do finally meet her though, there is not even any sign of the bramble scratches that Stephen refers in the scene outside the Big House.

Di Caprio is superb in the role – his baby face a reminder that he is third generation in the plantation and still apt to make mistakes, needing Stephen’s guidance to identify the deceit of the bounty hunters.  Stephen, played by Samuel L Jackson, is one of the best film baddies imaginable.  The close up of his face as he reacts to seeing Django ride up to the house is quietly terrifying, even before we have any inkling of how dangerous he is.

All the main (male) characters are complex and convincing with the only bit of bad acting being a cameo from Tarantino towards the end.  We even get to see Franco Nero, star of the 1966 Corbucci film Django, inspiration for QT.

IMDB details lots references, many of which I am not familiar with:
It also lists a number of anachronisms and geographical “goofs” which one can only presume a moviemaker of Tarantino’s ilk was aware of - and decided to gloss over - or that were deliberate (e.g Stephen’s rants including the use of “motherfucker” several times). 

Other fun touches include Broomhilda and Django being ‘von Shaft’ – great great great grandparents of John Shaft; a Wilhelm Scream (when the Regulators are retreating from the explosives on the wagon); the wobbly tooth on top of Shultz’s wagon; trademark close-ups of feet and even some laughs during the penultimate bloody shoot-out.  The eclectic soundtrack does not disappoint either (Morricone meets horror-core hip-hop).

This is a rich and rewarding film that stays with you for days after viewing.  Priceless Tarantino: epic movie making at its artistic and wittiest best.

And here is a proper review (which I wish I had read before starting my amateur attempt but I am pleased to see covers some of my broader points):

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