Sunday, January 13, 2013

Review: Django Unchained

I wasn't super excited about this, but I knew I had to see it. One, because it's a Tarantino film and I like almost all of his movies (except the one he's most famous for). Tarantino really captured my heart with Inglourious Basterds (2009) because that is one of my all-time Top Ten, so I knew not to get my hopes up too high coming off of that. The second reason I had to see this was because it's nominated for 5 Oscars (and has an almost infamous director snub nom to go with it). I try to see every movie that's been nominated for director, actor, film, cinematography, and writer.

Side note: I love award season. People's Choice, Golden Globes (which this year has the best host duo EVER), SAG awards, Grammy's, and then end it with my favorite, the Academy Awards. Because of my love of movies, it means I love movie stars. I want to see what they're wearing, the jokes they're making, and am only minimally interested in who actually wins. But it sure is fun to complain when the winners go all wrong.

In a nutshell, Django (Foxx) is a slave freed by a white bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz (Waltz), to hunt down three white brothers who worked at the plantation Django was at just before he was sold. Django is bought and then freed and after capturing the three brothers, decides to continue as Schultz's partner so that he can make enough money to track down his wife. Schultz offers to help him (it's next to impossible for Django to travel the South in 1858 for obvious reasons) and it turns out Django's wife, Broomhilda, has been sold to Candie (DiCaprio). Candie is a rich, mean bastard who involves himself in betting on fights to the death between slaves. Django and Schultz devise a plan to pretend to be a part of this business to gain access to acquiring (so she can then be freed) Broomhilda. Throughout, some things go wrong and some go right, and we get a in-depth commentary on the times.

Tarantino really is the epitome of an auteur. It's hard to watch a film of his (especially now) and not know within the first five minutes that it is definitely and without a doubt his. He is extremely influenced by old westerns and samurai films, with a splash of 70s grit-nostalgia. There are things Tarantino can do stylistically that other directors would be laughed at for. (Admittedly, some of those things Tarantino does precisely for a laugh.) I'm always on the fence about whether I like his "gimmicks" or not. What I have come to love is that his movies aren't always about a singular plot, but lots of tiny situations within that plot that tell you something.

Although, the thing I most like about his films is the humor. It's dark. And ironic. It's the kind of thing that you have to laugh at or you might cry. It's honest to goodness truth, twisted the tiniest bit so we're forced to look at it and see it for the joke it is. This means the writing has to be good and the actors have to be great. Luckily for this film, they are. Waltz is a Tarantino-discovered gem and Leo (we're on a first name basis) is so frightening it's hard to recognize. (I'm 50/50 as to whether Leo was also a snub in Oscar-noms, but generally I think he's snubbed a lot. He is a brillant actor that doesn't get any credit from the Academy, in my humble opinion.)

As for Foxx, let me first say he does really, really well. My only problem (and this might be more with the writing) is that it's very hard to get to know Django. Looking back, I can see this is troublesome because he's of course going to act differently slaved versus freed. And then he has to pretend to be something else to survive the meeting with Candie. So I can sort of see how Django as a person gets lost. But what we do get is Django's unwavering devotion to his wife. We see them together during slavery, we see Django without her, we see Django reunited but unable to help her, and we see his wrath to ultimately save her. Thinking on it now, I think this might be Tarantino's first true love story. So in this aspect it does a great job.

Not unexpectedly, Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012) was gritty, witty, and at times a bit shifty. (What I mean by 'shifty' is that I wasn't always certain where it was going or what it was trying to accomplish during parts of it.) Verdict: SAY-YES.

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