Monday, January 28, 2013

The Review: Django Unchained

I guess this is kind of a departure from the stuff I normally post, but let's work with it anyway.  Over the weekend I went to see Django Unchained at our fine theatrical establishment.

Actually, it's the only movie theater we have.  Thanks to my friends at St. Thomas Blog for the image that they have no idea I swiped. :)
Digressing.  Digressing.  Anyway, the film has gotten a lot of attention and I was kinda anticipating it since I saw the trailer so I caught the early show.  My first impression: I liked it a lot.  It's no Pulp Fiction (frankly I don't see Tarantino topping that one ever...Kill Bill was pretty close), but I still liked it.

First I want to touch on the language.  Yes, there was gratuitous use of the "n" word.  Frankly you can't do a pre-Civil War period movie without it.  Remember Glory?  That's why that film got an R rating (this one did too by the way).  Some will argue that this film isn't historical.  They'd be right.  But that's still the way black people were talked to and about back then.  It's an ugly word that broils a lot of anger in the African American community.  It's supposed to be ugly.  This was "reality" back then.  I put that in quotes because this is a fictional story but it takes place during a period of history that actually occurred.  Given the script the actors were handed I think they did a good job of not overemphasizing the use of the word and made it seem like natural speech for that point of time.  A special note though on the bad language: I pretty sure some of the curse words that were bandied about weren't popular in that time.  Oh, and you may (or may not) be glad to hear that Quentin's cameo character doesn't use the n-word...but his Australian accent is A-TRO-CIOUS.

Next, the violence.  This movie, as should be expected of every movie Tarantino makes, is incredibly violent.  The violence here though is somewhat comical because the blood work soooo over the top.  In one of the early scenes a slaver gets shot point blank with a shotgun while pinned under a horse and the blood spatter that hits the air look like someone tossed up a bucket of red paint.  Personally I've never seen a guy shot with a shotgun at point blank range (and I hope I never will) but somehow that's not what I imagine.  Still you'll be glad to know that violence towards slaves in general is downplayed quite a bit.  If you've studied American history you'd know that the reality for the slaves was actually much more brutal.  There's really only a few standout scenes of cruelty.  Except for gunshot wounds though, a lot of the true gore happens off camera (thankfully).  It'll still make you cringe though.

That's all the serious stuff.  Now on to the fluffy stuff.  The main cast did a spectacular job.  Jamie Foxx surprised me in this role.  I didn't expect him to be this good.  What I liked most about his character was that even though he was the one who had the most to lose he was the most level headed.  When Dr. Schultz though his acting was over the top, Django was able to ease his fears and assure him the role he was playing was necessary.  Even in the face of that cruelty I mentioned earlier he was able to stay stone faced even though you could tell his heart was breaking inside.  Christoph Waltz gave a standout performance as Dr. Schultz.  It's easy to see why he managed to wrangle (Old West joke) an Oscar nomination out of this.  I've heard it argued that he played an archetypical white knight, but I didn't see that.  While he did rescue Django from the clutches of slavers in the beginning of the film he wasn't particularly doing it to be righteous.  He needed to collect a bounty and Django was the only person to see the people he needed the find.  Dr. Schultz made it abundantly clear early in the movie that it was business.  He did mentor Django, but you can see they quickly became partners and friends.  Dare I say in a rather short time, Django's skill appeared to rival Dr. Schultz's (he referred to him as a natural; I'm inclined to agree).  I'm kinda surprised to see the Academy snubbed Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.  It's unusual to see an actor typically portrayed in heroic roles playing a bad guy.  And boy was he bad (as in he played a bad guy well).  I've seen the Southern Gentleman schtick done quite a few times but DiCaprio was pretty convincing.  If there's a Colonel Sanders biopic in the near future, DiCaprio's you're guy.  Looking forward to checking him out in The Great Gatsby.  Samuel Jackson was great too even though his role was kinda small.  None the less his part was pivotal near the end.  I can't say I think much of  Kerry Washington.  I don't think she got a whole lot to work with in the script.  Just typical damsel-in-distress stuff with a lot of screaming and crying.  There was only about two scenes where she really got to act and I was left underwhelmed.  I kinda wish she had a bigger role in the ending.

Storywise, I think the pacing worked.  I was glad Tarantino didn't go for telling the story out of order like he's so fond of doing in his other movies.  I didn't feel like there was unnecessary footage.  It's definitely a contender in the Best Cinematography category.  I especially liked the ending although I think it ended a bit too easily.  I think Django in his Little Boy Blue outfit might have cost this movie the best costume nomination though. 

I'm mixed on the soundtrack.  The movie jumped around genres like crazy; that's not very typical of a Western.  You have to get it in your head early that this isn't a typical Western, even though it starts with a rather typical Western theme (typical, but catchy).  There was Spanish inspired music, R&B, even Rap and a hint of Classical.  The Rap took me by surprise even though I did catch myself nodding to the beat.  James Brown is in there too!  I think the mix of genres is why I'm mixed on the soundtrack.  On a scale of 1-10 it's a solid 8 in my opinion.

On the same 10 point scale, the movie overall gets an 8.5.  If you're not weak of stomach and can tolerate the bad language, it's an engaging ride.  I'd like to hear what you thought of it.  When it comes to movie reviews I grade easy. :)

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