With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
Year 1, Day 199
BEFORE: This year’s Oscar nominees is continues to be the focus of Oscar month with Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained taking the spotlight today. I’m a big fan of Tarantino’s (Pulp Fiction is my favorite although Inglourious Basterds puts up a good fight) and Django Unchained has been at the top of my to see list for a while.
AFTER: Django Unchained is instantly recognizable as a Quentin Tarantino film. It has terrific acting (I’m looking at you Christoph Waltz), Tarantino’s signature writing style, and a similarly representative visual style as well. I quite enjoyed the film but I don’t think it’s Tarantino’s best.
The biggest reason I’m such a big fan of Tarantino’s work has got to be his writing style. He covers such serious topics (slavery, the KKK, and torture among others in Django Unchained) but instead of evoking shock and horror, there is laughter instead. A lot of the humor is the result of bizarre/outlandish situations and scenarios. Because that sentence probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and weren’t the best descriptors I could think of, I’ll use an example. You can actually see part of this scene in one of the trailers and that would be the scene with the “Bag Heads” (Bag Head #2 being played by Jonah Hill). Before these people attempt a raid on Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. King Schultz’s (Christoph Waltz) wagon, there is quite a lengthy conversation about the usefulness of their bags. In what would otherwise be an extremely serious scenario (an early form of the KKK raiding a white and black man’s property) becomes this ridiculous argument about wearing bags that make them blind because the eyeholes are too small. A debate erupts over whether or not they can fix the eyeholes, should they even bother with wearing them, and the hard work that one of the member’s wives put into making these bad bags to begin with. If you’ve seen a Tarantino film before you’ll know what I mean by this black comedy style of writing (one which I poorly described here) and whether or not you enjoy it.
Also requiring commendation are the wonderful performances by Leonardo DiCaprio who plays plantation owner Calvin Candie and the aforementioned Christoph Waltz. I was very much looking forward to seeing DiCaprio especially after hearing about the oft discussed scene where he actually cut his hand during a take. To say that’s an impressive piece of acting would be an understatement. You can see DiCaprio begin to visibly shake and carry on with the scene as if his anger was greater rather than scream out in pain and break character. But it was Waltz who really stole the show and shined above everyone else. Based on the trailers I was expecting Waltz to only have a very minor role, one that would have paled in comparison to DiCaprio’s Candie. But with his wonderful accent, fluency in multiple languages, and more importantly an ability to create those moments of laughter while also bringing a gravity to the scenes.
But Django Unchained is by no means my favorite Tarantino film. While the dialogue was brilliantly crafted, I was a bit disappointed in the structural layout of the film. There were no divisions in the film (read: chapter markers or other identifying titles between major sections of the plot). I think it would have been very beneficial and given some sort of closure/transition from three very distinct, yet connected, acts: Act I - bounty hunting days; Act II - conducting business with Candie; and Act III - Django’s return. As the film stands it seems ever so slightly disconnected, something I feel could have been solved with simple title cards. My other complaint reminds me of the comments I made when I saw Kill Bill Volume 1:
It’s not the amount of gore that’s upsetting; it’s the lack of realism. It’s some of the most unrealistic carnage I’ve seen and that’s surprising coming from Tarantino. Now, this may be part of of the heavily stylized look of the film, in which case, I still don’t like it.
Having seen this in a few of his films I’d no longer say it’s “surprising coming from Tarantino” but I still don’t like it. I’m guessing it’s to emphasize that this is indeed fiction and by no means real. But what I don’t get is that if the rest of the film is made to look so realistic, why go to such extravagant and bizarre lengths to show violence in this way?
If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put any money on the odds of Django Unchained winning Best Picture. It’s a highly entertaining and enjoyable film but doesn’t live up to the rest of this year’s contenders or the director’s other films. I would however consider it a frontrunner for Best Original Screenplay, a category which has already garnered the Golden Globe.
RATING: 4 out of 5