Directed by Quentin Tarantino
I have been meaning to write about Tarantino’s latest hit for a few months now. In fact I had been tempted to give voice to my thoughts on the subject since the start of the year. However, all this time there was somthing that held me back. It wasn’t a writer’s block, but more like uncertainty. If it’s even possible, I was unsure of my own views. Having read tons of other reviews, mostly awarding positive to average grades, from a wide range of critics with various tastes in film, it looked like the score was set. On the contrary, here’s why I enjoyed watching this film but I most definitely don’t praise it to any audience.
It’s no big secret that Tarantino has always treated the Western genre with much respect. He has directed many pictures that have shown the slightest interest in Western films like Reservoir Dogs and the opening scene from Inglorious Basterds. The question consequently rises whether Tarantino has fulfilled the high expectations in his highly acclaimed and originally scripted version of the 1966 Django.
Without delving into a detailed comparison between all the fascinating titles from the hands of Tarantino, Django Unchained is not as good as Inglorious Basterds unfortunately. The film lacks the sheer ingenuity in every scene and every piece of dialogue. Nevertheless, a comparison may be considered unfair as the two movies aren’t much related. Tarantino’s absurdist way of exploring race, slavery and revenge has resulted into Django Unchained being the product of special filmmaking in its own right.
The story is set two years before the Civil War. It focuses on Django (Jamie Foxx), a former slave becoming a bounty hunter by helping Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) with one of his many bounties. The plot doesn’t run more than a layer deep thouhh: it’s a lean tale of pure revenge. Schultz promises Django to help him exact his revenge on ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) with the aim of coming to his wife’s rescue. This heroic journey turns upside down when things go downhill in a matter of time. And then there is blood.
The film is structured into a messy organization of events. It often feels as if the plot of the film is rushed. The use of certain visual techniques evoked a hilariously episodic touch to the entire story and some parts didn’t serve any greater purpose but were included for the overall comedic appreciation of the film.
I could ramble about the story for a day, but believe me that it isn’t worth it when you take the excellent performances into account. Don’t get me wrong though: the story wasn’t the finest feature of the film, but it certainly was an original and refreshing plot for Hollywood standards. The acting was simply a captivating experience into the characters’ psycholigcal behaviour. Especially Christoph Waltz’ portrayal of Dr Schultz got me in a good mood. In the end, however, I especially did not understand some of his actions before going into the night. Django himself was played exceptionally well by Jamie Foxx. Same goes for Leo. Overall, the performances in Django Unchained deserve to be exemplified for future actors who wish to be as real as possible.
But then there is the loose ends in the film. Many critics have argued that it was Tarantino’s intention to portray a very gritty landscape in a staggering 165 minutes. Yet I believe that Django Unchained is more than that: it’s a stylistically enigmatic contribution to the Western genre. The use of dramatic close-ups evokes the campy and nostalgic atmosphere needed in a typical Western. Moreover, Tarantino’s decision to shoot on film has been a good reason to justify the messy feel the film often evokes.
The bottom line, however, is that the film is pure entertainment. It delivers the most consistent lines and all the events eventually build up to an unforgettable explosive orgy that we’re used to from Tarantino. Downside being, of course, that this particular Western genre has its own fans and does not speak to a universal audience. For all its faults, Django Unchained is not Tarantino’s best neither his worst: it’s an enjoyable piece of cinema and a must see for fans of the genre.