movie film review | chris tookey

Django Unchained

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  Django Unchained Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.71 /10
Jamie Foxx , Christoph Waltz , Leonardo DiCaprio
Full Cast >

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino

Released: 2012
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 136

Trashy but talented.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Some people have expressed surprise that Django Unchained has been Oscar-nominated for Best Picture. But this is Quentin Tarantino’s most entertaining film since Pulp Fiction, and its first hour is brilliantly funny. It’s too bad about the second one.

The early scenes are engaging and inventive. Christoph Waltz (an Oscar-winner for Inglourious Basterds) is slyly subversive as a soft-spoken German dentist turned deadly bounty hunter. He intercepts a chain gang of blacks and offers to buy Django (Jamie Foxx, an Oscar-winner for Ray), to help him find a white three-man gang who may be hiding nearby.

Django does just that, and they outwit a vengeful Ku Klux Klan, under the leadership of Don Johnson and Jonah Hill. Their problem is the ill-fitting bags over their heads, which mean they can’t see. This is an inspired comic sequence worthy of Blazing Saddles. It’s also a skilful parody of scenes in the 1915 classic, The Birth of a Nation, where director D.W.Griffith glorified the Klan as American heroes.

The grateful German entrepreneur helps Django learn to shoot, and offers him a job as his bounty-hunting partner: “It’s like slavery, it’s a cash for flesh business”.

Django replies, with brutal honesty, that he just wants “to shoot white folks for money.”

There follow more splendid scenes, as the two partners ride as equals into southern towns, causing outrage among the men and fainting fits among the women. Waltz’s way with words and his ability to hide behind the law are richly enjoyable. He and the deadpan Foxx make a hilarious double-act.

The film starts to falter when it attempts to take a deeper, more emotional turn. Django reveals he has a wife (Kerry Washington) whose German owners taught her German and called her Brunnhilde. She has been branded on her face for trying to run away with her husband.

The bounty-hunters learn she has gone to work for a rich, evil plantation-owner called Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, pictured), who has a taste for black-on-black “Mandingo” all-in wrestling to the death, and uses female slaves for his sexual pleasure, as “comfort girls”. The bounty-hunters hatch a plan to rescue Django’s wife under the guise of purchasing one of Candie’s fighter-slaves at an absurdly inflated price.

Once inside Candie’s heart of darkness, however, they have to outwit not only the sharp-witted Candie but his chief slave-butler, a memorably malevolent Uncle Tom called Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Things do not go as planned, and there is an almighty shoot-out.

A less self-indulgent director would allow the film to end there, but Tarantino lets it ramble on for quite a bit longer, with a spectacularly ill-advised acting cameo by the writer-director, who attempts an accent that’s meant to be Australian but sounds more South African.

As with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit, a film with plenty of high points is allowed to run on for at least half-an-hour too long.

Sequences that drag include the pulling of a slave to bits by dogs, portrayed with a little too much gruesome relish. And several overextended scenes suffer from the writer-director’s infatuation with his own dialogue, which is a mixture of the delectably archaic and the carelessly anachronistic.

Just as irksome is the obtrusive score, which conspicuously fails to make a harmonious mix of Ennio Morricone western music, rap, hip-hop and folk.

Tarantino is setting out to mash up four very different genres, two of them familiar: blaxploitation (which he did before in Jackie Brown) and racial revenge action film, previously attempted in Inglourious Basterds.

He mixes these elements with a couple of genres he hasn’t attempted before, pre-civil war western and genteel costume drama. It’s a weird combination, and the second hour, when they all collide, is a bit like watching an exceptionally lurid episode of Downton Abbey interrupted by blood-crazed ninjas.

I’ve always admired Tarantino’s flair, and there’s bravery in the way he refers to a subject that few American directors have dared to tackle: the racism of America’s past, and in particular its record on slavery. It’s a lot more fun than Spielberg’s stodgy Amistad.

Sadly, QT’s usual weaknesses are also on display. His love of violence, which in Inglourious Basterds looked like racism against the Germans, is here turned against white people in general. You only have to consider what audiences would make of a film that enthusiastically praised the ethnic cleansing of black people by whites, to realise there’s a kind of inverse racism going on here.

Tarantino still isn’t any good at deepening character. The relationship between Django and his wife is fumbled badly. It’s the buddy-buddy chemistry between the two bounty-hunters that drives the picture, and blatantly the only human contact in which the director is really interested.

Tarantino remains fatally obsessed with pastiche. His film is a loose remake of a little-seen film from 1966, the spaghetti-western Django. But the inferior second half borrows most obviously from Mandingo, a 1975 exploitation film notorious for its bad taste.

Tarantino has adopted with baffling fidelity its simplistic view of plantation owners as evil, raping racists - along with its taste for lip-smackingly voyeuristic melodrama.

Although he’s knocking fifty, Tarantino is still a brash young man at heart. All his movies are flashily brilliant but emotionally callow, films for fanboys when as an adult it is surely time for him to reach out to a wider, more sophisticated audience. But I have an awful feeling that this is one director who will never mature. For good and ill, we’ll just have to take him as he is. He’s certainly unique.

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