Django Unchained – Movie Review

A fine example of unabashed bloodletting in the context of the two worst applications of capitalism in our history, bounty hunting and slavery.

There has been so much hype about Quentin Tarantino’s new spaghetti western it is hard to find more to say about the movie. It is, after all, mostly just another spaghetti western. However, it is a very good film for those bloodthirsty Sam Peckinpah / John Hillcoat fans who cannot get enough of the slow motion, squishy bloodletting and exaggerated fleshy sound effects that accompany a really good, bloody quasi-western shoot out.

It takes courage to make a film like this. If the film flops, it will flop big, easily written off as pulp fiction. Unlike QT’s previous “Pulp Fiction” which turned out to be a gold mine. “Django” does add so much add to the wesploitation genre as it celebrates it.

By over-emphasizing the explicit human disintegration and dismemberment, it forces us to mock it. As Tarantino shows he has the courage to make a film like this, we are given the courage to watch it, enjoy it, and move on to something else.

The screenplay is playful and bloody at the same time. The gruesome whippings of slaves at hands of the psychotic slave owners are taken from reality, although they were not everyday reality. The range thugs and hired gunmen are also a piece of Americana, whether we like it or not.

The hilarious part of this movie is that these dreadful historical records are retold in unabashed street vernacular. The sets and costumes are perfectly Hollywood western, but the accents and phrasings are taken from inner city urban, Anywhere, USA. That is, anywhere but the rural West.

The result is very funny, if the viewer can stomach the gore for long enough to get the joke. It is as funny as when Barbara Billingsley translated the jive in “Airplane.” The audience is taken backstage for QT’s inside joke, the real look at his style. He has no intention of trying to compete with serious drama; he is planning a serious revolution. This will not be a film people prefer to see, it will be a film they have to see, or how will they explain not seeing it to their friends?

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, the third generation psycho slaving owner of limitless plantations in the antebellum South. Although he has walked the line before, diCaprio has never played a truly miserable, vicious and remorseless killer before. He does fine in the role, although he will never be as good as those screen stars who seem to have been made for the role (Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson…). Samuel L. Jackson plays Stephen, Candie’s black, long time family house servant who has become his right hand man.

As the twin leads of the film, Christoph Waltz (as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz) and Jamie Foxx (as freed slave on the run Django) generate some of the best screen chemistry of the season, taking Butch and Sundance to the next level.

Waltz (2010 Oscar winner for “Inglourious Basterds”) is pitch perfect as businessman and assassin Schultz. Like Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” agent of the law Schultz has no trouble making the choice between taking them in dead or alive. Dead is, by far, the safest option and the concept of a fair fight never enters into the equation. Kill them from a distance and sell their corpses for money. “It’s a lot like slavery,” as he puts it.

He is right. Selling live souls into a living death is actually about the same thing as killing them first then selling their dead bodies. As in “Pulp Fiction” (and Peckinpah’s “Wild Bunch”) it is all about business. Well, mostly it is about business.

The fun starts when human emotion gets in the way; when Butch saves Marsellus, or when The Bunch go back to save Angel. Because even though Django has joined Schultz ostensibly to make money, what he really wants is to be reunited with his wife Broomhilda von Shaft (got to love that name), played to the hilt by Kerry Washington. He needs the businessman as much as the businessman needs him.

The film is a long haul, 165 minutes total, but fans of the genre will never be bored, except, for a bit in the third quarter. Having almost pulled off their successful ruse, the bounty hunting couple, kings of charisma or not, is threatened with lethal exposure by the seemingly psychic Stephen.

What follows is a masterpiece of on-screen tension. There is no blood as the two pairs go head to head in the ultimate game of chicken, but there is plenty of first-rate tension, better than Tarantino has ever done before.

The gunfights, like most of the spaghetti westerns, and like much of the violence in previous Tarantino bloodlettings, are predictable. Although it is hard to find fault since it is so well done. Either you like it, or you do not. Great cinematography by long time Tarantino collaborator DP Robert Richardson (“Basterds,” “Kill Bill,”) and explorer of the dark and unnatural (“Shutter Island,” “Natural Born Killers”).

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Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Don Johnson and Leonardo DiCaprio
Release Date: December 25, 2012
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language
Run Time: 165 minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color