d j a n g o  u n c h a i n e d

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18th January 2013

Quentin Tarantino

Jamie Fox, Christoph Waltz

165 minutes









Si wussed out on watching Django Unchained as he is not a fan of blood and gore and I think he made the right choice.  From the outset Django Unchained is brutal, bloody, tense and unforgiving but there is also humour and some truly memorable performances that makes it one enjoyable ride

German bounty hunter (posing as dentist) King Schulz is on the trail of the infamous Brittle brothers when he meets Django (Jamie Foxx), seventh in a line of eight slaves, and a slave who can identify the Brittles.  Schultz promises to free Django if he points out the Brittle brothers thus ensuring Schultz a hefty bounty.  They achieve this at the farm of Big Daddy (Don Johnson) where Django gets (understandably) more than a little het up upon seeing the men who inflicted such unimaginable cruelty upon him and his beloved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).   Instead of going their separate ways after the deal is done, Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with the now named Django Freeman by his side honing his not inconsiderable skills, as Schulz says ‘they'll be calling you the fastest gun in the West'. Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda , the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago and, knowing that if he goes alone he would certainly end up reslaved or dead, Schultz insists on accompanying him and their brotherhood continues. Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to  “Candyland,” an infamous plantation run by an equally infamous and terrifying young man, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) under the pretence of buying ‘Mandingos' (fighting slaves) and here the final act is played out in all it's bloody glory.  

I neither know nor care enough about Spaghetti Westerns to try to re-write this so here some lovely info from the Production Notes: 

The name  “Django” is familiar to fans of Spaghetti Westerns:  Franco Nero first portrayed the character in 1966 in DJANGO.  Nero joined the production to make a cameo appearance in DJANGO UNCHAINED.  “For us in Austria, ‘Django’ was a household name. Not necessarily Franco Nero, but ‘Django.’” Waltz says.  “Every Spaghetti Western that came out, even the obscurest ones, in the German version had ‘Django’ in their titles, even though there was no Django in the plot or in the story.  They just put ‘Django’ in because Django really was the distilled key word, so to say, to name the genre.  If it had 'Django’ in it, you knew it was a Spaghetti Western.” “I like evoking the Django title for what it means to Spaghetti Westerns and that mythology,” 

Tarantino says.  “At the same time, there’s a 40-film series of nonrelated DJANGO rip-off sequels that are their own spot of Spaghetti Western history. I’m proud to say that we are a new edition to the unrelated DJANGO rip-off sequels.” (Copyright TWC).  

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Although at first a Spaghetti Western about black slavery may seem like an uneasy fit, Tarantino says “It’s unimaginable to think of the pain and the suffering that went on in this country, making it perfect for a Spaghetti Western interpretation. The reality fits into the biggest canvas that you could think of for this story.” Big canvas is certainly what Taratino is painting on here, vast expanses and some beautiful shots meant that even for it's (probably 15 minutes too long) running time of 2hr 45 I for one didn't feel bored or fidgety and that is no mean feat.  Largely I think this is down to the delicious pairing of Christophe Waltz and Tarantino's words.  Obviously this is a tried and tested formula (Waltz won his Oscar for his role in Inglorious Basterd's). Tarantino loves language and rhetoric and Waltz has the wonderful ability of making it sound poetic, the same way Waltz moves like a dancer, every little twirl of the moustache or adjustment of his waistcoat feels hypnotic, the words trip off his tongue beautifully.  I could have watched a whole film about King Schultz - the only sympathetic white character in the film, and a merciless bounty hunter.

Jamie Foxx gives a multi-layered performance as our hero, Django who begins with little language or sense of self and ends up a smoking hot, badass dude with some wicked shooting and riding skills.  A bondafide hero.  Foxx certainly gives Django the style and swagger towards the end of the movie that we are longing to see but also brings gravity to some seriously heartbreaking scenes (such as Django on his knees begging the Brittle Brothers not to whip Broomhilda).  For all of this blood and gore, Django Unchained is a love story.  The fact that Dajngo and Broomhilda are even married is something that would have been taboo in the antebellum south, marriage was not desired, and mating amongst the strongest was what was desired so they could breed stronger slaves. Therefore it was extremely important to Tarantino that they be married. Kerry Washington says 'I think the adventure of making the film, and the adventure that Django goes on, are epic journeys in the name of love, which I think is pretty awesome.'  It works on that level as love story, we feel it all and want them to triumph.  Washington is great as Broomhilda, my only criticism would be I would have liked to have seen more of her in action.  Although she runs away, once with Django and once alone (and is caught and punished) I just would have liked to see more of her rebellious nature, Washington is a great actor who could have been used more.  Maybe I am asking a bit much trying to get slavery and female roles addressed in one Hollywood movie. 

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a mencing turn as Calvin Candie but to me he never really achieved terrifying.  Tarantino says he re write the role when DiCaprio came into the picture as he wrote it for someone older and then pictured Candie as a young emperor inheriting the land and the evil from those before him.  The scene in the drawing room where the 'Mandingo' fighting is going on is a stand out for Di Caprio, utterly chilling, as is the scene with the dogs.  Disturbing to say the least. Despite these I just felt it wasn’t fully committed to, I wanted more dammit!  In a film like this where people, colours and landscapes are hyper-real, he could've gone further. Geek fact (courtesy of www.nextmovie.com): “It's also not Tarantino's first use of black bounty hunters or "Mandingo" either, as he combined both into one of Samuel L. Jackson's more memorably un-PC lines from 1997's "Jackie Brown" in reference to Robert Forster's prisoner retriever Winston (Tommy 'Tiny' Lister): "Who's that big, Mandingo-looking n****r you got up there on that picture with you?"

Samuel L Jackson, too old to play Django (Tarantino says he got more than an earful for writing this too late) plays Stephen, Candie's house slave.  Tarantino said when he pitched Stephen to Jackson the conversation went something like this:

So, what do you think of Stephen?
What do you mean what do I think of Stephen?
Do you have a problem playing him?
Do I got a problem playing the most despicable black MF in the history of cinema?........No I don’t have a problem with that!

Stephen is indeed a despicable MF, buddied up to Candie, his slaver and utterly hypocritical to his race.  His involvement in the scene at the dinner table makes it one of the most unbearably tense cinematic moments I've sat through and his chemistry with DiCaprio is great.   The complete trust between Tarantino and Jackson is apparent and I just couldn't imagine any other actor pulling off the role like Jackson does.

This all sounds pretty sinister and dark but let me assure you there is humour in this film, oh yes.  A lot.  The scene where Big Daddy and some KKK types are riding to kill Django and King Schulz is having 'bag issues' is hilarious; Don Johnson is very funny as is Jonah Hill's bizarre cameo.  Also Tarantino's cameo warrants a mention (he says he did because it was too dangerous to ask an actor to do). Tarantino manages somehow to keep it light enough so that in between the darkness we are always entertained.

I need to mention the formidable costumes by Sharen Davis.  Waltz and Foxx look smoking hot most of the time, and she didn't put a foot wrong anywhere else.  Wonderful job.  I predict will be a huge trend of Django fancy dress parties with men trying to look as good as these two.  Let me just tell you now boys, you won't.  Also a mention of the soundtrack which is exactly what you expect from a Tarantino film, thoughtful, provoking and exciting.  

Tarantino says of the movie, that he wanted to 'give African American people a Western hero ' and he has certainly done that.  This is Django's film and he certainly does what he came to do, and is merciless in doing it.   Oh yes, do we have to discuss the use of the 'n' word?  Perhaps it's easier just to watch the American journalist on You Tube getting taken to task by Samuel L Jackson for refusing to say it but wanting him to say it.  Sigh, but, if we must...  Excessive?  How can it be?  This is the Antebellum South we are in, the word nigger would have been bandied around much more carelessly than it is in the film. Offensive?  Well, hell yeah, but surely the point of this film is to make people angry, make them want to talk about what happened? I would bet my bottom dollar that's exactly what Tarantino wanted.  Thank you Spike Lee.