Django Unchained

Django Unchained (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist, approaches a group of slave traders and expresses his intention of possibly purchasing one of the chained men in line. Since he is greeted with animosity, what could have been a peaceful transaction turns deadly. But Dr. Schultz, a man of his word, does not neglect to pay the seller, on the ground and under excruciating pain for being shot in the leg, for the black man he just bought. Later, he tells Django (Jamie Foxx) that he is a bounty hunter. They make a deal: if Django helps Dr. Schultz track down three men, believed to be hiding in one of the plantations in the south, and help to kill them, Dr. Schultz will not only give Django his freedom, he will also earn twenty-five dollars for each corpse.

Perhaps the most notable quality of “Django Unchained,” written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is its generosity when it comes to weaving subplots into its bones. This creates a narrative that inspires us to wonder how they will unspool and reconnect.

There are many elements in the screenplay that may be worth a second look in order to further appreciate its craft, like hybridizing the western and blaxploitation genres to create a farce out of the racism in mid-nineteenth century America, but what I am sure about is that the film would have been better if it had been shorter. This is because not all of the subplots unwind in consistently interesting or surprising ways. Most start off exciting but almost all eventually lose vigor. For instance, the scenes that comprise about half the picture often have one premise: the stupidity of a white person who ardently supports slavery. The scene with the Klu Klux Klan quickly comes to mind. Although the humor underneath the punches, some blood-soaked in irony, is present, I could not help but wonder when or if the material would change gears. I grew increasingly tired of the setup and as the film went on, some of the jokes that have been used are recycled.

I enjoyed that the dialogue is not as ostentatious as one would come to expect from Tarantino. Instead of the sentences demanding us to pay attention to a carefully chosen word and how it is used as, say, a double entendre, the actors’ performances outshine the script. If this had not been the case, the exchanges between Dr. Schultz and Django might not have communicated a friendship that we could believe and invest in despite the most unlikely circumstances that surround them. Times when the two main characters–a white man and a black man–are quiet or making a real connection by telling each other more about themselves are, surprisingly, the most memorable moments because the material taps into the simmering sadness and outrage of the scar that continues to define America.

The hyper-stylized violence also works but maybe not in a way one would come to expect. Sadly, a lot of people have the tendency to relate to violence on screen more than scenes of two people connecting to one another through simple conversations. The gun battles are dispersed and I think the writer-director is very smart to have employed such a technique to get people to care more deeply about what is happening. While I would have preferred that the violence be saved at end of the picture to serve as a catharsis, it is understandable why the bloodshed may feel to occur very randomly at times.

I did not find “Django Unchained” especially entertaining but I appreciated its visual artistry and carefully measured yet outwardly wild performances. Although it can be interpreted as a straight arrow revenge story, we can look at it another way and think about issues it wishes to address underneath the amalgamation of anachronisms.

4 replies »

  1. There is some great dialogue in this film particularly from Waltz, Jackson and DiCaprio. I enjoyed their performances a lot. But at 3 hours in length, this movie is hard to sit through. A good editor could have easily chopped out 60 minutes in the middle section before they arrive at the plantation and it would have made the story flow a lot better.

  2. I admire Tarantino, beyond generally liking his films. And I do because I think he places an eye on things covered and slathered with story in a way few filmmakers match. His dialogue is usually briliance and the unfolding comedy right alongside deeply dramatic material. His work is sublime, however, I agree with you that this was long. I mean I didn’t watch the clock, but at some point I started getting ‘tired,’ and wondered…’How long is this thing?’ Laughed it off.

    However you are right, the performances outshine the screenplay. And how enjoyable, from the cameos to the leads. All except Kerry Washington, the champion horse, kept in the barn sort of speak. That was painful, because I am a huge fan of the actress (who isn’t nowadays)?

    But having an actor of weight like this in a film, without dialogue distracts and I think it does because you may be taking away a joy from the audience. A basic one, which is to watch the nuance and interpretation the actor is allowed to bring. But to use Kerry Washington as just the girlfriend who weeps, or is afraid to talk the whole time, was exhausting and tended to irk you after a while. It was similar to the white slave owner being stupid narrative, which served as a foundation for many a joke. It was so unconscious after a while and began to come across like someone who doesn’t edit – like chatting with an extremely talky person.

    I would have also liked to see the violence saved for the end of the picture too. I think, instead of having it be a character in the film, it needed to serve as catharsis…or show up less.

    Part of the experience of a film is it’s audience, and with recent events swirling around us, we are not going to be laughing or simply watching with the same eye. So directors have to become more aware of the potential lives of their view (if even in a general way). With violent incidents cropping up around the country, we are all turning into, it is difficult to keep watching violence on screen which is caricaturized. Each display can rip you out of your movie going experience due to the reports you’ve been watching all week on tv.

    It can make movie violence, suddenly turn cartoon in a way that distracts…and that happened for me here. All in all, too many elements within the film to be distracted by. :[

    • “But to use Kerry Washington as just the girlfriend who weeps, or is afraid to talk the whole time, was exhausting and tended to irk you after a while.”

      Hmm, I never really thought about her character that way. I thought it was understandable that she was portrayed as such because 1) she has been turned into a slave and her owner does not value her (especially her opinions) aside from what she can physically do to fulfill his needs: to serve, to wash, to clean, to be a punching bag… and 2) she is deathly afraid, of doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I think it’s important that we feel her fear and dehumanization.

      • I think your views and what he did with the role was perfect, just not with the actress. To this extent, I feel the role was miscast. Though, I understand the thinking – more stars more money, as the investors can see their return.

        However, because the character was not really given a real indepth turn around or fiercely dramatic expression I feel he could have used a lesser actress in the role. As Kerry’s audience now knows her weight and looks to see more and more tortured characterizations or executions of something. It’s her weight, though she’s young and an up-and-comer.

        This is something I might have said directly to Tarantino. So, to not lace her with that caliber of performance is distracting. Sure you can have her not say anything but then when you do have her speak it had better eventually evolve into something of pretty affecting significance, as that is her track record. Fans are looking for that. No one casts Daniel Day Lewis in a bit part where it’s suppressed and restrained, the whole time. Lolol.

        And I do understand his character, but that is not my issue. It’s the usage of this actress in the role.

        But, it was an opportunity and he probably also wanted to give the audience the most believable person he could think of – that a man might do all that for – and give Fox his equal on screen. And she is that, but there are some actors you have to do more with, if you cast, that’s all.

        And of course, this is my opinion… :)

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