Anthony's Film Review

Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained is brutal and intense, but still packs an entertaining Tarantino punch...

Early in his career, Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed crime films, most notably Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. He would later transition into a style of filmmaking that involves mixing established film genres, movies, and characters into something that is new enough to be called a Tarantino creation but with the cinematic references still obvious to the most die-hard film fans. Kill Bill is an excellent example of this. If we continue looking at Tarantino's career further, we start to see another new thing: films with historical settings, namely Inglourious Basterds set in World War II and Django Unchained taking place in the southern United States during the slavery era.

After seeing Django Unchained, I want to emphasize something that may be obvious anyway. You don't go into a Quentin Tarantino movie expecting a valuable history lesson. I doubt that there has ever been an instance of a black slave in America becoming a heroic gunslinging bounty hunter after being freed by a compassionate white man. If you really want to learn about heroes of the slavery era, read about Harriet Tubman's efforts to help escaped slaves through the Underground Railroad or the first-hand accounts of Frederick Douglass and other slaves who wrote narratives of their experiences and helped the world understand the torment of slavery. But I'm digressing here. The point is that Django Unchained is a Tarantino flick like any other, whose sole purpose is to entertain the audience.

Because the movie is more driven by plot than character, it doesn't spend time presenting the title character's backstory. Instead, it goes right into the present story. Django (Jamie Foxx) is freed when a dentist-turned-bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) purchases him, because Django can help identify three men whom Schultz is tracking down. That's not to say the sale goes smoothly, because Django's owner doesn't give him up. Hence, we see a violent resolution to the problem, with the white slave owners brutally shot and other black slaves freed from their chains.

As Schultz completes his mission with the help of Django, the now former slave has a mission of his own: rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The two had been separated after different slave owners purchased them. It's not long before Schultz and Django discover that Broomhilda is currently owned by a Mississippi plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). In order to get to Broomhilda, Django and Schultz meet up with Candie and woo him with a deal that would make Candie even richer than he already is, something he can't refuse. Things do get a bit tough for Django and Schultz, who have to maintain their deceptive covers even while they witness the horrifying treatment of slaves along the way. Also, Candie has an elder slave named Stephen (a nearly unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson) who had been submissive for so long that he has fully adopted his master's mentality of despising disobedient slaves.

This 165-minute movie is essentially a sandwich of explosive action to get things going, a long drama with very little action, and more explosive action to wrap things up. Tarantino certainly handles the drama portion well, giving the main stars plenty of screen time for fine performances in their roles. The dialogue flows smoothly and works pretty well, especially in critical moments where Django and Schultz are much closer to saving Broomhilda from her bondage. It just goes to show that Tarantino can write and direct a story, not just action scenes.

Of course, the action scenes are fun to watch, to say the least. I will admit that I also enjoyed them for mixing realism with bloody comic fun. The gunfight scenes in Django Unchained aren't the typical kind in Hollywood movies where people who get shot are instantly dead with little to no blood shed. Here, each bullet that penetrates a body results in moderate blood splatter that can easily stain a wall a few feet away. Just picture how quickly things can turn red during a crossfire. Also, a person can get shot more than once but will still remain alive while screaming in excruciating pain. It's somewhat funny, because it's too bad that the victim isn't in an action film where everyone dies instantly from one gunshot.

As long as we're on the topic of violence in Django Unchained, I should mention the other source of violence in this movie, one that I actually found difficult to watch sometimes: the depictions of slavery. The film does not shy away from showing us how brutal slavery can really be. It's one thing to see gun violence in movies, which has been around for years and involves bad guys who, many of us believe, deserve to die. It's another thing to watch slavery scenes in Django Unchained, because we're talking about innocent people being harmed. For me, the hardest scene to watch was the one featuring Mandingo fighting, in which slaves are forced to fight each other to the death, purely for the slave owners' entertainment. (It's possible that Mandingo fighting never actually existed, but again, I digress.)

In the end, Django Unchained is an entertaining bloodfest featuring a hero we can root for. It also presents us with a new kind of hero, the slave who rises from the depths and rights the wrongs, even if that means killing his tormentors in cold revenge. Come to think of it, perhaps Tarantino does have a purpose in mind when it comes to the historical aspect of the movie. Given that slavery hasn't really been presented this graphically in films, I'm guessing that he's helping us stand up and condemn once and for all the inhumanity that is slavery. Then again, it's a Tarantino movie. What do you expect? A history lesson, or nothing but good mindless cinematic fun?

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Django Unchained, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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