Django Unchained (2012)

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An audacious Overcat

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio

Genre: Adventure, Drama, Western

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Quentin Tarantino has been in the thick of screenwriting and movie-making since his mid to late twenties. But he’s said his creative story really started when he secured a job at a hole-in-the-wall of a video store soon after dropping out of high school and giving the veritable middle-finger to our conveyer-belt society (the American Dream). There his directorial approach was informed by discussions of cinema with fellow avid movie fanatics and his notice of the types of grainy, raw films customers gravitated toward. A creative genius was born.

Whether that tale is fact or merely pulp fiction, Tarantino has certainly come to be known for his exploitative, vulgar and often extremely sadistic movie fare—a filmography that includes the recent likes of the Kill Bill movies and Inglorious Bastards. This latest flick fits snuggly into this bloody portfolio. It blends the ugliness of pre-Civil War slavery with spaghetti Western quick-draw action and exploitation pic sensibilities.

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The result of Django Unchained is a messy swirl of historical pulp and vile flesh-rending. It’s an inconsiderate cornucopia of flamboyant cruelty and brutality: whippings, a scene in which a man gets torn apart by dogs, plus the most wanton use of the N-word ever heard in a mainstream movie. Here’s where we start to call into question Django Unchained’s commitment to condemning the atrocities of slavery, because Quentin Tarantino’s bloodbath sensibilities and penchant for graphic cruelty also revel in that brutality.

To paint a colorful picture: Throughout the film, a man is attacked and torn asunder by crazed dogs that rip and tear viciously at his legs and arms. “Mandingo Fighter” slaves pound each other savagely on a bloodied hardwood floor before one snaps his opponent’s forearm, gouges out his eyes and uses a proffered hammer to end his opponent’s whaling misery. Men have their flesh flayed with whips. Dozens of Klansmen are “comically” obliterated by the flame and percussion of a detonated bomb. Men are left screaming from the pain of broken bones when horses fall on them. A man is shot and bleeding, but then shot again in the crotch to add torture to torment. Another is kneecapped with gun blasts to leave him writhing and struggling, like a poached gazelle, before being consumed by a massive and unnecessary explosion. A woman is shot and propelled backward through an open door by way of magnum force. It is all classic Tarantino.

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Jamie Foxx is Django, a shackled slave, whose encounter with eccentric German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) sets the film’s plot into motion. Freeing Django from a chain gang, Schultz recruits him to identify three outlaws. Pretty soon the two men become partners, cleansing the land of lawbreakers through some pretty violent and hilarious means by way of choosing “characters” to play. Schultz then promises to lead Django to his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and help him rescue her from the clutches of sadistic slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

The first thing I noticed is that Tarantino hasn’t tired of his love for curt dialogue, the bulk of which go to Christoph Waltz, who uses it to construct another delectably ominous character after that outrageous Nazi, Col Hans Landa, in Inglourious Basterds. Leonardo DiCaprio, as well, appears to be having a blast as usual, playing the racist villain of the piece, complete with moustache-twirling/pipe-smoking merriment. It seems that Leo can’t get enough of the “wealthy tycoon in a large house” character these days and we are again introduced to Leo’s character in a similar way to that of Gatsby: Boyish grin, accompanied by salute by way of a cigarillo. The real surprise, however, is delivered by a near-unrecognizable Samuel L.  Jackson who shows up in the small but unforgettable part of Candie’s creepy man-servant.

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Gunfights and shoot-outs generate huge geyser spouts of blood, brain matter and ground-up flesh. Men are left squirming, bleeding and screaming in anguish on scores of occasions. Blood is liberally painted on nearly everything, the walls, sidewalks, floors, horses and the lily-white bolls of a cotton field. It’s as if the actors were filled with balloons of spaghetti sauce or raspberry chutney due to the dramatic fashion in which the bullets seemed to produce a carnival of splatters. Basically, if you wanted to redecorate the walls of your foyer with a saucy red, just call up Quentin to shoot one of his movies in your home.

The celebrated filmmaker essentially invites us to witness such a climactic orgy of brutality and bloodshed that you have to ask if the film is attacking cruelty or reveling in it. Even as you debate that point, it’s impossible to deny that there’s a lot to admire in this stylish revenge fantasy that’s riddled buckshot with the kind of unforgettable touches only Tarantino could get away with. But alas, the man wants to fire in every idea he has, no matter how it all fits together; and as a result, the film is close-to-three-hours running time, which this reviewer was thankful for.

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