Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:
When a horse gets shot in the head in the first 5 minutes, this should instantaneously remind every audience member that they are watching writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s latest revenge flick, “Django Unchained”. But this isn’t just a revenge story, it’s also a moving love story as well. Starring Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave in the Deep South who is forcibly recruited by a German bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, who promises to give Django his freedom following the capture three Overseers turned outlaws. But when Schultz finds out that Django’s true quest in life is to reunite with his long lost wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) as they had been separated by slave trade, he takes it upon himself to help Django on his journey; a journey which leads them to Candy Land, the plantation owned by one Calvin Candie, fabulously played by Leonardo DiCaprio in an award worthy performance.
As in his other films, brilliantly constructed dialogue, shock value violence, with a mixture of campy satire and beautiful aesthetics fuel this story. But undoubtedly the most interesting aspect of “Django Unchained” is how ballsy of a subject matter this is, for a director who has (in the past) been accused of using the “N” word so flippantly. And as if Tarantino was very aware of this fact, not long into the film it becomes quite obvious that “Django Unchained” will not only stand as the newest film from the #1 film geek turned director himself, but also as a well formatted rebuttal (middle finger) to all of his “haters”.
This is truly the Tarantino Western in every facet, with great shoot-out sequences, wonderfully Clint Eastwood-esque dialogue and characters that are all larger than life. Hell, he even formats a satirical KKK comedy bit that is as funny as anything in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles”. But it’s not until this film hits the scenes within Candy Land in Act 2, does “Django Unchained” work as 100% entertainment (but this doesn’t happen until about an hour in). That said, the first hour of this movie takes a while to develop (much like the old 60’s westerns) Tarantino’s refusal to outsource his score does tonally hinder the film a bit and the third act carries on about fifteen minutes longer than is necessary. So, while that doesn’t change the fact that the second act of this movie (the central hour) is damn near perfect, it also means “Django Unchained” doesn’t reach its full potential as an overall film; to the point where this may be seen as a slightly underdeveloped failure by some Tarantino fans expecting every one of his films to be “Pulp Fiction”.
The Acting: Aside from a cameo by Don Johnson playing a plantation owner named Big Daddy, which is clearly the cameo of the year, and both Waltz (who should only be in Tarantino films from now on) and Foxx doing fine enough work here, the real stars of the show are Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the hilariously evil old house slave (the Uncle Tom) in Candy Land and DiCaprio, who is the best part of this movie by far, giving his depiction of a flamboyantly evil Plantation owner. DiCaprio is astounding to watch here, not only chewing the scenery but eating it alive, giving a performance which is so despicably engaging, that it’s sure to live on in cinematic villain history.
Side Note: There should be no complaints about Tarantino’s depictions of African American’s in “Django Unchained” simply because while he does maintain his trademark pulpy violent, dark comedy style throughout, at many times he does push the boundaries, more than ever before, with a dramatic and fairly historically accurate portrayal of the South during slavery. In fact, the main thing that separates “Django Unchained” from his other films is this added dose of reality, which is sure to make audiences uncomfortable; and rightfully so, as this is a movie about slavery. Make no butts about it, some of this film is very hard to watch (in the same vein as something like “Amistad” would be). And while these serious visual choices that Tarantino makes may come off as tonally strong, it all works because of how historically necessary they are to the story. Another difference here is how this may be the first Tarantino film where audiences are made to feel an overwhelming sense of sorrow for the main character’s plight. But also make note that Django is not depicted as a “poor me” black man (i.e. like the Michael Oher character in ”The Blindside”) but as the self empowered hero; a black character that is rarely seen in these types of films. So (in my opinion) “Django Unchained” not only pays homage to the 1966 Spaghetti Western “Django” (riddled with sudden zooms and extreme closes ups on squinting eyes) but also works as an homage to black history.
Final Thought: While the story itself isn’t as creative as “Inglorious Basterds” and it’s not a movie Spike Lee will be watching any time soon, “Django Unchained” is clearly a better movie than anything Lee has put out in a long time and is definitely worth checking.
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