Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz,
Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson
Director mixes styles for powerful story on slavery
MONTE YAZZIE ~ THE FOOTHILLS FOCUS~ 12/26/2012
There are few filmmakers that are given the creative freedom that Quentin Tarantino has when crafting a film. Whether it’s rewriting history or reinventing genre standards, Tarantino has proven wholly capable of doing just about anything he wants. With Django Unchained, Tarantino has made a Blaxploitation, spaghetti western, focused around the element of slavery. The scope of this film, though not as immense as his masterpiece Inglorious Basterds, is still considerable as Tarantino lavishes his distinctive style into every fascinating frame of Django Unchained.
The film begins in the darkness of a Texas brush, the clacking of chains echoes through the night. Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist turned bounty hunter, is looking to purchase a specific slave by the name of Django (Jamie Foxx). When met with opposition from the slave owners, Shultz proves far more dangerous than his unintimidating stature might reveal. Shultz is in search of a bounty and enlists Django to assist him in promise of helping him find his enslaved wife. Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is in the confines of Candieland, a plantation owned by the loathsome Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Shultz trains Django as a bounty hunter, offering him the tools he’ll need to navigate his vengeance.
The elements of genre, and there are numerous ones at play here, are woven and exemplified as much, if not more, than other Tarantino offerings. The film transitions from genre to genre quite often. At times it makes the narrative feel uneven due largely to the establishment of tone, but oddly enough it’s also successfully executed. In one scene of genre melding a convoy of horses and carriages is accompanied by a hip-hop soundtrack that fits perfectly with the scene. Tarantino walks the line of exploitation and examination when analyzing the issue of slavery, however the employment of comedy and romance break up the trappings to an extent. The handling of violence on the other hand is plentiful and thoroughly vicious.
Part of what makes these stories work for Tarantino is the near perfect casting of his characters; and thus is the same with Django Unchained. Jamie Foxx, although overshadowed, seems tailored to play the role of a vengeful cowboy. There is a swagger and attitude he brings to Django that offer the strongest attributes, however he doesn’t seem to register beyond the one-liners. Tarantino implements story elements that force Django to play numerous characters in order to capture bounties. This leaves little for Foxx to build upon when he is tasked with carrying the film. Leonardo DiCaprio is captivating as Calvin Candie, bringing gleeful animosity as a plantation owner that deals in brutal slave fighting. Christoph Waltz is again impressive playing opposite of his persona in Inglorious Basterds. Waltz displays a confidence through his soft-spoken delivery that sparks the Tarantino driven monologues.
And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson’s layered character Stephen, the head house servant in Candieland. Jackson is great, harboring despise for Django’s freedom while also levying an Uncle Tom mentality tinged with deceit and hatred for everyone but himself, it’s a tough character to embody in a film that is already peaked with a narrative revolving around hate.
Whether it’s the examination of the racial relationships of Django and Shultz or Candie and Stephen, or his proclivity for picturing history through his own eye, Tarantino’s analysis on race and the still lingering effects on history seen in daily life or media rendering offers observant insight into a filmmaker operating for something more than just entertainment. Still as all of his films have proven, Django Unchained included, Tarantino’s films are perceptive and captivating. Time will tell but Tarantino may one day harbor a genre of his own definition.
4.50 out 5.00