Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Django Unchained

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained is the story of a slave who is freed by a bounty hunter as the two team up to find a group of vicious killers while the bounty hunter helps the slave in retrieving his wife from a plantation owner. The film is a mixture of not just the Spaghetti Westerns that Tarantino loved but also mixed in with a bit of blaxploitation as it explores the world of slavery and a man’s desire to claim back his wife. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo di Caprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson. Django Unchained is a thrilling and adventurous revisionist western from Quentin Tarantino.

It’s 1858 in Texas as a man named Django (Jamie Foxx) is being taken to a slave auction by the Speck Brothers (James Remar and James Russo) where they encounter a German-born dentist named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who is looking for someone that knows the infamous Brittle Brothers. Django claims to know the Brittle Brothers as Dr. Schultz frees Django from the Speck Brothers as the two make a deal. With Django a free man, Dr. Schultz decides to train Django as a bounty hunter where they team up to find the Brittle Brothers and split the rewards. Django agrees to Dr. Schultz’s deal in which he hopes to retrieve his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who has been taken to a famous plantation known as Candyland owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). After a successful run of bounties that has made Django and Dr. Schultz famous, the two travel from Tennessee to Mississippi to meet Candie.

Upon arriving into Mississippi, Dr. Schultz and Django decide to play a role to woo Candie whose plantation is notorious for training male slaves into fighting and women into prostitution. After intriguing Candie, Dr. Schultz and Django go to Candyland where the two see Candie’s plantation that is filled with all sorts of things including an elderly servant named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Upon learning that Broomhilda is working at the plantation, Dr. Schultz hopes to see her since he has learned that she speaks German. Once Broomhilda realizes what Dr. Schultz is doing, things seem to go well until Stephen believes something is up as he talks to Candie about his suspicions. Suddenly, trouble brews for Django and Dr. Schultz about their intentions as it leads to a showdown.

The film is essentially the story of a slave who is freed by a German bounty hunter as they team up to kill many targets and retrieve the slave’s wife from a charming yet brutal plantation owner. It’s also a film about a man who has endured slavery throughout his life where he not only gets his first taste of freedom but also find a reason to get back the woman he loves from the shackles of slavery. It’s a film that is mainly a western in terms of its visual setting and plot scenario but it’s much more than that it’s a love story, a revenge film, a buddy film, a comedy, and has elements of 70s blaxploitation in terms of its stylish dialogue and themes.

Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay is quite straightforward in terms of narrative structure yet it does feature a few flashback scenes to reveal what Django went through and how he got separated from his wife. A lot of the script revolves around Django and Dr. Schultz’s budding friendship and their partnership in the bounty hunting business. A lot of which has to involve lots of charm, trying to talk the way out of a situation, and intrigue someone. Yet, there’s also killing where Django and Dr. Schultz each play a character where Django plays valet to Dr. Schultz where both men keep their cool and then go about their business. Some of which would antagonize various plantation owners including a man named Big Daddy (Don Johnson) who tries to organize a rally that doesn’t work itself out.

While the character of Broomhilda doesn’t really get much to do as she’s really more of a plot device for Django who would often see her in his journeys. She is still important as someone who tries to endure all sorts of trouble as her past is just as interesting as she was taught to speak German by her mistress which definitely interests Dr. Schultz. Then there’s Calvin Candie who is this antagonist that is a man that loves to see slaves fight where he makes a lot of money and he gets a lot of pride in what he’s done for his plantation. Yet, he is also quite brutal through the men who work aside him including an elderly servant who is extremely loyal to Candie and is far more vicious in the way he believes slaves should be treated. It adds to this complexity of what Dr. Schultz and Django has to do where the former is disturb in how a slave is killed though it doesn’t surprise Django. Yet, it would play to the kinds of trouble Django would go through not just in the hands of Candie’s goons but Stephen most of all.

Tarantino’s direction definitely has a lot of unique compositions as well as various trademarks that he’s been known for such as the intimate table conversations where there’s a camera on a dolly capturing the conversation. Yet, it is also very stylish in the way Tarantino presents certain scenes such as the flashbacks where there’s an air of grainy stock film footage and de-saturated photography to play up the struggles Django and Broomhilda went through. Still, Tarantino does manage to keep things straight while creating some interesting compositions for the scenes between Dr. Schultz and Django as the way their friendship builds up. Notably as it goes beyond the student-mentor archetype of the relationship as both men are very clear about their intentions for each other.

The film also has Tarantino go into elements of black comedy with not just some of his stylish dialogue that has a lot of use of a certain racial slur. It also plays to the fact that white people are befuddled by the idea of a black man becoming a bounty hunter. The violence is definitely bloody and graphic at times yet it plays to what is happening as these men have to encounter someone like Django. There’s also some very chilling moments of suspense such as the dinner scene between Django, Dr. Schultz, and Calvin Candie where it’s about who can intrigue who in the art of negotiations. It then goes into a very dark turn due to the stakes that occur as it would be followed by what Django has to do and use everything he learned from Dr. Schultz to fight back. Overall, Tarantino creates a film that truly lives up to what is expected in the western but also create something that is engaging as well as entertaining.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography from the lushness of the winter scenes to the gorgeous colors of the Candyland exteriors along with the nighttime interiors inside the mansion. Editor Fred Raskin does excellent work by employing lots of stylish cuts including slow-motion cuts for some dramatic moments, methodical rhythms for the suspenseful moments, and some slight fast-cutting in the action scenes. Production designer J. Michael Riva, along with set decorator Leslie A. Pope and supervising art director David F. Klassen, does superb work with the set pieces from the look of the towns Django and Dr. Schultz encounter to the splendor that is Candyland.

Costume designer Sharen Davis does amazing work with the period costumes of the times from the lavish, stylish dresses some of the women wear including the female slaves of Candie to the suit that Candie wears that plays up to his persona. Sound editor Wylie Stateman does wonderful work with the sound from the sound of whips and gunfire to the more intimate moments such as the dinner scene at Candyland. Music supervisor Mary Ramos creates a fantastic film soundtrack that features many film scores from Ennio Morricone, Luis Bacalov, Don Straud, and Jerry Goldsmith as well as mixture of music from soul, hip-hop, country, and pop from artists like Johnny Cash, Jim Croce, Richie Havens, Rick Ross, James Brown, 2Pac, John Legend, and Anthony Hamilton as the music is definitely a highlight of the film.

The film’s casting by Victoria Thomas is just flat-out awesome due to the numerous cameos and appearances that were assembled for the film. In some great cameo appearances, there’s Tarantino associates Zoe Bell and Tom Savini along with Robert Carradine as Candie’s trackers, Michael Parks and Quentin Tarantino as a couple of men taking slaves to a mining company, Bruce Dern as Django’s old slave owner, M.C. Gainey as one of the Brittle Brothers, Tom Wopat as a marshal that Dr. Schultz deals with, James Russo as one of the Speck brothers, Jonah Hill as one of Big Daddy’s associates, and the original Django in Franco Nero as a businessman who shares a drink with Django.

Other notable small roles include Walton Goggins as a sadistic associate of Candie in Billy Crash, Dennis Christopher as Candie’s attorney Leonide Moguy, Laura Cayouette as Candie’s sister Lara Lee, James Remar in a dual role as one of the Speck brothers and an enforcer of Candie, and Don Johnson in an excellent performance as the old-school plantation owner Big Daddy. Kerry Washington is pretty good as Broomhilda though she doesn’t really get much to do though she does have a great moment in her scene with Dr. Schultz where they converse in German. Samuel L. Jackson is brilliant as the very devious servant Stephen where Jackson displays a lot of humor in response to Django only to be much more sinister in what he does to Django.

Leonardo diCaprio is outstanding as Calvin Candie where he exudes not just wit and charm to his role as a plantation owner but also a sense of terror into his character in the way he gives this very chilling monologue. It’s a performance that shows what kind of enthusiasm diCaprio brings as well as something that shows he can play the bad guy. Christoph Waltz is magnificent as Dr. King Schultz where he too exudes wit and charm into his role but also someone who is very intelligent and cool in the way he deals with things while being a mentor to Django as the chemistry between Waltz and Jamie Foxx is a true highlight of the film. Finally, there’s Jamie Foxx in a exhilarating performance as Django where he definitely makes his character a true archetype of what is expected in a Western hero. Foxx maintains that sense of cool in the way he deals with things and his enemies but also a restraint where he knows he has to be in control to save his wife.

Django Unchained is an incredible film from Quentin Tarantino that features a brilliant ensemble cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo diCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film is definitely one of the most fun and exciting westerns that doesn’t just pay tribute to the genre but also gives it a nice sense of flair that makes it engaging and also thrilling. It’s also a film that isn’t afraid to not take itself seriously while also being funny. In the end, Django Unchained is an outstanding film from Quentin Tarantino.

Quentin Tarantino Films: Reservoir Dogs - Pulp Fiction - Four Rooms: The Man from Hollywood - Jackie Brown - Kill Bill - Grindhouse: Death Proof - Inglourious Basterds - The Hateful Eight - Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Related: The Auteurs #17: Quentin Tarantino - Growing Up with Quentin Tarantino

© thevoid99 2012


David said...

Where would you put it among Tarantino's filmography, Steven?

thevoid99 said...

Well..., look at this list and you'll find your answer.