Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: Django Unchained

Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, you either usually love or hate his films but even his detractors can't say his movie aren't unique and interesting.  I am a Tarantino fan (Pulp Fiction being my favorite of his films) but even his movies that I wasn't so crazy about (Jackie Brown for example) were still "different" and always succeeded to break the cinematic mold.  With his 8th and latest film just released in time for Christmas, Tarantino gives us his spin on the Western genre with Django Unchained, an epic sweeping spaghetti western blended with a frank depiction of slavery in the 1800's.

Jaime Foxx stars in the titular role of Django who is a slave in the deep south that gets purchased by Dr. King Schultz (played wonderfully by the always-on Christoph Waltz).  The former dentist and the former slave join forces on a sweeping bounty-hunting mission across the south that takes them to a plantation in Mississippi where they attempt to re-unite Django with his slave wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington in a role that mostly asks her to look pretty).  The plantation is owned by a wealthy slaver named Calvin Candie (Leo DiCaprio in a rare turn as a villain).  Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson shows up in the second half of the film as a stubborn old house slave at Candie's plantation.  Throughout the film (which seems a tad bit long at over 2 hours and 40 minutes of run-time) we see Foxx's Django go through the process of embracing his freedom and mastering the art of gun-slinging.  With over a 100 uses of the word "nigger" throughout, the brutality and hardship of slavery comes across loud and clear.  In the end, we witness Django as he rises above all of the evils around him in an attempt to rescue his true love.  The arc of Django becomes the pulse of the entire film and Jaime Foxx gives his best performance since Ray in completely embodying the legend of his character.   

Tarantino is in top form with this picture.  From his whip-smart dialogue to his clever use of over-the-top blood and quick-zoom camera work, he has his fingerprints all over this production.  You can tell that he is very comfortable with Waltz who owns the first half of the film.  The Oscar-winning actor has mastered the art of delivering Tarantino's sharp dialogue with a hint of glee and panache.  DiCaprio gives yet another reliably excellent performance as Candie, spouting lines of bravado while maintaining a sense of southern cool only to lose his temper towards the end of the film in an effective fit of rage.  Tarantino wraps all of the action up in an authentic southern setting that includes vast open landscapes, genuine plantation houses and rustic old-time western towns.

The big surprise for me in this film was the performance of Jackson who has a history of mailing in some over-the-top bombastic efforts over the years.  Here he is right at home with his frequent collaborator in Tarantino and you can tell he is putting his heart and soul into his portrayal of Stephen (the right-hand 'bad guy' to DiCaprio's Candie).  I hadn't seen Sam Jackson give such a quality performance since probably Pulp Fiction.  Jackson's final-act showdown with Foxx contains by-far the best line in the film.  I hope the Academy will recognize him but I'm betting that the trio of Waltz/DiCaprio/Fox will overshadow him.

This was one of the better films I've seen from 2012.  I don't think I enjoyed it quite as much as Inglorious Basterds (my #2 overall movie of 2009), but it definitely ranks up there in Tarantino's top 5.  I recommend seeing it on the big screen to take in the wonderful wide-angle cinematography and excellent soundtrack.  If the Academy can get past all the language and violence, I hope they decide to give this film a Best Picture nod.  4.5 out of 5 JRs for Django Unchained which leaves Zero Dark Thirty as the last movie I NEED to see from 2012 (until Oscar nominations come out later this week).

1 comment:

Rushputin said...

If you don't love Jackie Brown, I'm not sure we can be friends.