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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Django Unchained



Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's rollicking, shameless, blood-soaked pulp spaghetti western about slavery, once again delves into the sort of revisionist history Tarantino began with Inglorious Basterds. Jamie Foxx stars as the title character Django, a former slave turned freedman turned bounty hunter, though Foxx, cool and often as silent as the "D" in "Django", almost melds into the background for much of the film. As does the film's multi-act structure, which really more or less breaks down into the following: The Christoph Waltz Show, The Waltz and Jaime Foxx Show, The Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio Show, The Samuel L. Jackson Show, and finally The Jaime Foxx Gets To Kill Everyone Show.

Waltz, Tarantino's Oscar winner for his turn as the Nazi Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, dominates the early part of Django Unchained. As slavery-hating German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, Waltz loquaciously frees Django from captivity and indoctrinates him has his new bounty hunting partner. Django, naturally the quickest draw in the West, now "gets to kill white folks and get paid for it". Schultz quickly learns "the kid is a natural". Shultz and Django go about their schemes by role playing "characters", complete with multiple visits to haberdasheries, such as when they pay a visit to Ku Klux Klan leader Don Johnson to collect on three bounties and then massacre the Klan trying to kill them. Slowly but surely, after copious amounts of blood is spilled and corpses of racist white people litter the dusty plains of Texas and Tennessee, the greater arc of Django reveals itself: Shultz and Django make a pact to free Django's beautiful wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the only slave woman who can speak German, from the clutches of Mississippi plantation owner and "seasoned slaver" Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). 

Their gambit to rescue Broomhilda is fiendishly over-complicated in its intricacies: involving Schultz pretending to be a wealthy German investor interested in paying a "ridiculous amount" of money ($12,000) for one of DiCaprio's slaves who fights in "Mandingo Games". (The unnecessary complications of this plan is highlighted later when, after DiCaprio and Jackson uncover the ruse, the legal arrangement is simply made for Shultz to buy Broomhilda directly for the $12,000.) The latter half of Django is a battle of wits and sheer acting chops between Waltz and DiCaprio, but the winner is Jackson, who completely steals scenes by hilariously pretending to be DiCaprio's loyal house ni- uh, consigliere, but is secretly the longtime brains and fearsome power behind the egotistical DiCaprio. Finally, after a couple of bloody and explosive shootouts, Django is unleashed and gets to murder all the evil, racist, slave-whipping white people left in the movie, and also Jackson, riding off into the sunset with Broomhilda.

While the N word is dropped constantly throughout (and much ado is made by the white characters who see Django riding a horse), Django Unchained takes a much more withering view of those very racist white people, who all meet inglorious ends, usually via their heads exploding into bloody gushing geysers thanks to Django and Schutz's hand cannons. Quentin Tarantino himself cameos as an Australian slave driver and gets to be personally dynamited into Quentin bits by Django, sharing the fates of the despicable white characters that sprang from his imagination. "Why don't they just rise up and kill us?" DiCaprio muses about slaves over dinner, but that idea had long crossed Shultz and Django's minds, even before DiCaprio launched into a hardly scientific analysis of the "submissive" sections of black people's brains. Characters like DiCaprio are clearly presented as despicable, so much so that the act of shaking DiCaprio's hand is the straw that breaks the camel's back for Waltz, with fatal consequences for everyone involved. If anything, Django Unchained is probably about 20 minutes too long, which would equate to about 11 fewer white folks being dead, but then every single dead white person in the movie deserved what they had coming to them.