Django Unchained

I was up until 1 a.m. watching Quentin Tarantino’s latest 2 hour 45 minute epic – Django Unchained. Is it just me, or are movies getting longer? It seems strange in a time when we digest most other media in Twitter-esque sound bites. How is it we have the attention for a 3 hour film? Well, Django held my attention.

Django Unchained is part revenge-thriller (following in the footsteps of Death Proof, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds) and part Spaghetti Western. The film begins with Django (Jamie Foxx) – a slave being transported in 1950s Southern USA. His party – led by two nasty slave-trading brothers – is stopped by a man with a large wobbling tooth on the top of his cart. Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist, and his horse Fritz. The doctor wants to talk to Django, and when his owners interrupt the doctor shoots them and pays for Django. It turns out Dr Schultz is not a dentist but a bounty hunger, and needs Django’s help recognising some men. The two team up, with Schultz promising Django his freedom and to help him free his wife, Broomhilda, at the end of the winter.

Tarantino does a great job of rousing emotions – of making us angry enough as we watch to want to see somebody killed in a violent way. To make us long for revenge. Overall, Django is a sensory and emotional feast – the costumes are fancy, the scenery awe-inspiring, the soundtrack an interesting mix of Country and Western and rap, and the revenge brutal and satisfying.

The film deals with some touchy subject matter: Tarantino said he wanted to talk about this dark part of America’s past without making it an “issue film.” Opponents claim that he has in a way exploited this history by turning it into a Spaghetti Western. I can kind of see both points. Turning this into a serious “issue” film avoids the real complexity, brutality, and absurdity of the event. But at the same time it is an entertaining film, and it tells a good story that is sometimes funny and often emotionally stirring. I can see how some people might view it as disrespectful – a sort of exaggerated version of history blown up for a better, more visually shocking story. But in the end I think I side with Tarantino. Here is a vivid, can’t-look-away depiction of slavery and the treatment of slaves by white slave owners. It is the uncomfortable (if sensationalised) truth that Americans need to face about their history.

I did feel – as long as it was – that there were a few things missing: some unexplained characters and storylines (such as the Mandingo fighting) that didn’t seem to go anywhere.

But overall, Django Unchained is captivating. The script is excellent, and there are some fantastic performances, particularly from Waltz (who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Dr Schultz), Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen. A well-told, action-packed story with a touch of romance, and a hero we really want to see win in the end.

Django Unchained (directed and written by Quentin Tarantino) was released in 2012. This film is rated ‘R’.

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