Django Unchained (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino (Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill)
Starring: Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson
There is a lot of peripheral talk about this film from Spike Lee's Vibe interview about the insensitivity to his ancestors to the question of violence in cinema. Spike Lee (who refuses to see the film) stated via twitter "slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It was a Holocaust.
While Tarantino pays homage to the Spaghetti Western the central story of Django revolves two key concepts within this genre, the revenge story, and the cowboy buddy concept. Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) in his horse drawn wagon with a tooth hanging from the top is in search for Django a slave from a plantation. When Dr. King Schultz finds Django (Foxx) the two embark on a journey as bounty hunters to kill the three men who captured him and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and sold them to other plantations in order to separate them. While on their journey the duo begin to connect and threw German folklore they begin a journey as bounty hunters on a journey to save Broomhilda from Calvin Candie and his plantation Candyland in Mississippi.
While artists have their right to their opinion, I would respect Lee's thoughts on this journey if he had seen the film. Lee and Tarantino both have used racial constructs in their films, in different ways, but they have been important to some of the construct of their films (Lee way more). Avoiding seeing this film reminds me of the way in which the late Ernest Borgnine refused to see Brokeback Mountain, because he thought it defiled the legend of the cowboy flick. While I can see and understand some of the racial problematic moments within the film. Like Brokeback Django is more than the message on the outside, and I would be more curious to dialogue or speak with Lee after he saw the film.
Let's move beyond Lee's problems, and talk about the actual film. Django is a bloody good time, but also one that over stayed its welcome, by thirty minutes. Tarantino's script is bold, mesmerizing, and often hilarious. While not one of the best screenplays of the year this film crosses barriers in only ways that Tarantino, a master craftsmen, can manipulate. There is something brave about Tarantino's direction, and writing. Within his last two films (Django, and Basterds) there is a fuck history mentality. Tarantino is constructing films which blend aspects of history within this film with the Spaghetti Western where a black man becomes a bounty hunter killing white men. In both Basterds and Django the victims become the victimizers in a way pushes film to the next level. Mix all of this creativity with of a soundtrack that includes a combination of music from Tupac, Johnny Cash, and Ennio Morricone-you can't help but get pulled into the story and the characters.
While Jamie Foxx is the star, and the center of all the action, the most talented cast member within this film, is Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz. Waltz won his Academy Award playing a Nazi in Tarantino's last film Inglorious Basterds, a role which helped garner a lot of attention. Waltz steals the show, once again, but not as the dastardly villain, rather as the man helping Django on his journey to get his wife back. Foxx and Waltz, dance this dance almost as though it were a perfect Waltz. The embody one of the key elements within this Spaghetti Western. Their work as this sheriff and deputy like bounty hunters may provide more blood than I have seen in a long time.
This leads to another one of the other peripheral topics the film raises in regard to violence. With recent incidents in Colorado, and Connecticut there is a question being posed, and now directly to Tarantino does the incredible amount of violence need to happen? Artistically this has been one of his signature style choices. Tarantino without violence is like Ben without Jerry, lost. Does he cross the line too much? There is an eternal blood bath within the film, but the goal of the film is vengeance and within a film that not only offends on many levels. Tarantino uses the N-word more than I have even heard on film and almost becomes just as common as saying "hello." As much as Tarantino offends he also challenges by showing the racism within the fascination the mammy and mandigo. Going back to the violence, while he may push the line, that's the goal of the film.
Along with pushing boundaries Django and the good doctor are tying to get to Broomhilda, and the only way to do this is through Calvin Candie, and his ever faithful house slave Stephen (Jackson), well them and the many men who oversee the fields. DiCaprio's Francophile Candie is one bad dude, and DiCaprio is one great scene stealer. Yet Jackson's Uncle Tom like character is the person who steals the scenes most while in Candyland; he plays the darkest character in the film, and his abhorrence to those who do not help his master are what sets him off more than anything.
These two evil men, help Tarantino juxtapose the "heroes." and provide an interesting, and harsh reality on the evil within slavery. Tarantino along with Cinematographer Robert Richardson create a visually sumptuous story that once you are strapped in, you do not want to hit eject, until the last thirty minutes. The film loses a little steam as the blood bath rises at the end of the film. While the film is by no means perfect, and there are reasons people may struggle with the way things are portrayed this is still one solid film that challenges the film landscape, you would expect nothing less from Tarantino.