Controversial. Visceral. Do you expect anything less from Tarantino?
Django Unchained is the story of a slave (Jamie Foxx) rescued by a German bounty hunter called Dr. Schultz (played brilliantly by Cristoph Waltz) to help identify three money earning targets. Django becomes the bounty hunter’s partner and fulfils his search for his long-lost wife. They find her working in the house at a plantation run by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) where Samuel Jackson hams it up as an old butler character. Chaos ensues – you would be disappointed if it didn’t. It is almost as if by the end of the film Tarantino can’t hold himself back any longer and shouts for bloody mayhem.
The tricky subject matter and the proliferation of the dreaded ‘N’ word go some way in explaining the controversy surrounding the film. However I would suggest that most of the controversy was probably drummed up by the studio to get bums on seats. Only the most backward of white Americans would see anything to complain about in this film. For me it seemed less violent than Kill Bill or Inglorious Basterds and the only thing that perhaps would unnerve a few racist rednecks was the fact that it was a black man killing white folk (and getting paid for it).
Django is a natural quick draw and sharp-shooter and uses his new-found skills to great effect during the story. As a Western this is part of the cannon and not to be questioned. Equally it is a given that Django can not only ride a horse but do so very well. What sets the film apart from most Westerns is the brilliant dialogue and the humour. Dr Schultz in particular gets some great lines and slowly reveals himself of somewhat of a humanist despite his killing ways. He is the light to Calvin Candie’s dark racism and the final scenes between the two are some of the best Tarantino has filmed. There is a similar thread to the anti-Nazi history rewrite finale of Basterds, but in this case the outcome is loaded with more tension and heart.
Foxx’s character very quickly becomes the strutting black hero that we would expect from Django if we reference back to the glut of similarly titled films in the 60’s. In some ways his character is less three-dimensional than Dr Schultz and indeed Candie, and this is perhaps a drawback of Tarantino ‘reloading’ an old film concept in much the same way as he did with Basterds. I love Westerns and I love Tarantino and so for me it is a brilliant combination, but I would like him to try something wholly from his own imagination next time around. Tarantino in space perhaps?
Imagine if he wrote and directed a Star Wars film – there’d be severed hands flying in all directions as a legion of Sith descend upon the younglings…
Additional thoughts after my second viewing (Siggy was on her hols and we watched it together when she got back) –
There were a few things that I wanted a ‘second pop’ at on rewatching the film. First of all I was curious over the man at the bar just after we see the bloody mandingo fight and are introduced to Candie. The mysterious man has just seen his fighter bested and killed with a hammer, but still has the time for a a tequiela at the bar and a quick word with Django posing as a black slaver / mandingo expert. The man says he knows that Django is spelt with a ‘D’. It is a bit of an incongruous comment and made me wonder ‘who was that guy?’ Well, that guy was a cameo by the original actor in the 1966 version of Django – so of course he would know how it was spelt. It was another nod to the previous ‘Westerns’ gone before by Tarantino; just not as subtle as the pulllling-the-man-and-horse-down scene or even subtler other references.
Secondly was the female tracker. We see her briefly in two scenes. One where she is holding a hatchet and her face is mostly covered by a bandana just before D’Artagnian is ripped apart by dogs, and one where she is looking at a 3D photo in the trackers lodge just before she is gunned down in revenge for D’Artagnian’s death. ‘Who’s that girl?’ I thought twice over. The subject of a deleted scene mayhaps? Well, as there were no deleted scenes on my Blu-ray I don’t know, but I was watching the credits and saw the name Zoe Bell. Which rang a bell (scuse pun). IMDB to the rescue! She was Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill and she has worked on an amazing number of films (including Deathproof). Tarantino slipped her in as a favour it would seem and there is rumour that she failed the audition for Candie’s sister, so he probably felt obliged to include her somewhere in the film.
Third. The blood on Candie’s hand. I thought it was a brilliant piece of writing and helped emphasize the darkness of the character when he smears it over Broomhilda’s face. I also liked the way the blood develops naturally, it is not overtly referenced by the camera and Candie continues his tirade without seeing to the cut. Well bugger me if it wasn’t real blood and a real cut and DiCaprio (true artiste that he is) carried on going even though he had genuinely accidentally cut himself. Bravo.
Which leads me to a final point. Having read a few reviews since originally writing my review after my first trip around Django Unchained I feel that some sense of calm be injected into the anger inflated veins of those reviewers who went to town analysing the violence towards blacks in this film. It’s all about CONTEXT! yes a black man gets ripped apart by dogs, yes black people get whipped, yes throughout the film black people are refered to with the ‘N’ word which is taken as okay if it is a black man doing it but not a white (fair enough), yes basically throughout the film black people are consistently down trodden and wait for it…. treated like slaves! Good gosh! Well strangely enough this film is about slavery and is set two years before the American civil war. It therefore quite accurately depicts the degradation of blacks in that time period. For the film not to do so would be absolutely ridiculous. Those reviewers who go on to say that the white people in the film don’t get an equivalent level of violence levelled against them seem to have wanted Django to go around torturing each and every white person in the film to an equivalent level of the treatment the blacks received. Pretty much every white person was dead by the end of the film, one of them was whipped before being shot, and another was shot in the bollocks. To my mind Django got his revenge and the film was ultimately about him, not about black America versus white America, although it’s anti-racist theme was obvious and satisfying to see. It’s like criticising Schindler’s List for having too much Jew killing in it FFS! For those who watched Django Unchained and thought ‘oh dear this is a bit too violent’ my answer is this (and harks back to the first lines of this post) – it’s Tarantino – no likey no watchy.