Thursday, 24 January 2013

Django Unchained (Film Review)

Looking at Django Unchained you’ve got to wonder what really needs to be said about this. It’s Tarantino, what more do you need to know?  But you’re likely looking for something in detail so here’s an opinionated view of it.

Set two years before the American Civil War, the story follows the tale of a pair of bounty hunters consisting of the ex-slave Django Freeman and Dr. King Schultz. Having used Django to identify men he is after Schultz makes a deal with him to split their cash and help him on his way, eventually becoming involved in a plan to rescue his wife.

It’s about as straight forwards a western as you could expect from this director and it contains more action and payoff than you’d find in Inglorious Basterds. This isn’t to say that Tarantino abandons his trademark style of tension, caricatures, long scenes of monologues; it’s just that there’s more blood in here. More moments in which you see guns being fired and more action to drive things forwards, to more to the amount you’d find in Pulp Fiction than Reservoir Dogs.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the film is the classic genre influences which are presented full force within the first minutes. The title and opening credits are presented in that classic western style font with bright red colouring to an opening song of the sort you’d expect to hear in a John Wayne cowboy film. All of which get you into that right mentality within the first few minutes of starting so you know exactly what you’re in for even as the director’s classic cinematography starts to implement outdated grindhouse shots. With sudden whip-pans, extreme zooms to capture facial reactions and rapidly edited one sided gunfights with slow-motion. The sort of trashy camera movements which only help to enhance the enjoyability in many ways.

If there was one distinctive aspect which did distance the film from previous Tarantino productions it would definitely be the plot. More straight forwards than you’d expect to find in any of his films, the focus is squarely placed upon a single duo attempting to achieve one objective with little to no distractions. There’s no multiple characters never encountering one another with each of their stories interconnecting and even flashbacks used to establish character motivations are kept to a minimum. It’s far more direct than you’d expect, even more so than the Kill Bill duology, which helps with the focus upon the protagonist.

Djago’s past is fairly straight forwards and lacks a truly unique history which would make him stand out. In part this could be seen as some subtle comment upon his role as a slave but more likely it is due to the fact the film shows his growth and development. Growing in terms of skill and ability until he reaches the man he is in the closing credits, rather than, as is usual, having the film be emphasising his background. This is largely what makes it stand out from the director’s other films, but there is also the element of humour to be considered.

While none of the previous films have been known to shy away from grim humour or wordplay things seem to have been taken up a notch. While it has not increased in volume or veered into outright slapstick territory, S.N.L. style jokes turn up far more frequently than you’d expect. An often quoted example is a scene in which the proto-KKK argue over their choice of hoods and cut of eyeholes. It’s done in such a style that if the scenes were taken on their own you’d swear they were from a Mel Brooks script. Its presence largely helps to offset the increased level of violence and give more emotional variation between scenes.

Speaking of violence, the gunfights themselves are spectacular. While they tend to be reserved for moments you’d expect, after long tense scenes or similarly built-up scenarios, there does seem to be more of an emphasis upon them. Some taking well over a minute to play out rather than the two or three seconds usually seen in things like Inglorious Basterds. All of which have the level of blood and destruction you’d expect from a film of this type.

As for the quality of acting on screen, just look at who’s in the film. Just about everyone present in the final act and is a major player in events has someone great playing them and playing their character all but perfectly. Whether they be hamming scenes up, taking a humorous turn or are acting out in rage it’s obvious they’re giving it their all. This is especially true of Leonardo DiCaprio (in what will supposedly be one of his last roles for a long time) and Samuel L. Jackson, both of who manage to act out their roles to a degree where you stop seeing the actor and only see the character. Something which is hard to pull off for anyone well established in popular media as they.

Really there’s only so many ways it can be said the film is gloriously well made. Different from what you’d necessarily expect but definitely outstanding. If you’ve enjoyed westerns, Tarantino films, or even just entertainingly vulgar films with a well-crafted entertaining script you’re definitely going to have fun with this. Really, go out and see it while it’s in cinema.

Oh, there is one thing which should be said to anyone planning to see this: The controversy and analysis surrounding it? Everything from Spike Lee’s criticisms of how it was portrayed to people claiming this is Tarantino getting rid of his own “white man’s guilt”? Ignore it. People are overanalysing the film to its maximum and disliking that it either doesn’t turn slavery into some ludicrously over the top elongated holocaust driven by racists determined to wipe out those they hate and those who think the portrayal goes too far.

Despite its historical liberties it never shies away from showing how wrong society was then with its inherent racism, how wrong slavery was and just how abhorrent those who treated slaves could be. At the same time it never goes so far as to lose sight of the fact it was an industry driven by business and cash. For all its moral repugnance it was not some global scale hate-crime fuelled by racism naturally present in every non-Afro-American person. Nor, despite what some claim, is there any case of any “magic negro-ing” in the plot with Django himself clearly being the hero of its events.

All of the controversies surrounding the subject matter should be ignored and all you need to know is it’s a good film.

Django Unchained and all related characters and media are owned by Columbia Pictures.

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