Django Unchained (2012)


And a slick bunch of posters to choose from out there too.
And a slick bunch of posters to choose from out there too.

Genre: Period Action Drama Western

Starring: Jamie Foxx (CollateralRay), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious BasterdsCarnage)

Directed By: Quentin Tarantino (Kill BillPulp Fiction)

Overview: In 1858, in the American South, freed slave Django partners up with a white bounty-hunter who agrees to help rescue Django’s wife from a wealthy plantation owner.

Feel free to click here to skip the spoiler bit at the beginning.

These paragraphs are strictly for those who’ve seen the film, who never plan on seeing the film, or who don’t mind every hook, line and twister being ruined before they see it (you people are weird)...
Click here to skip the spoiler bit.

Although not usually a fan of the spoiler discussion, I felt it worthy to note, worthy to congratulate the way one climactic scene was treated with exceptional skill. The actions of our heroes and villains in this scene isn’t something I’d call special or even particularly original, because it felt so natural. I found this incredibly noteworthy, incredibly refreshing, because Tarantino took out the ever-important issue of money as the impasse for our rich characters, choosing instead to make ‘the last straw’ a different catalyst altogether.

The reprehensible plantation owner, Calvin Candie, finalizes a $12,000 sale for a ‘Mandingo’ fighting slave. It is all just a double-blind ruse to rescue Django’s slave wife by buying her. As the deal closes, Calvin is made to know the truth, made to realize his time had been wasted, made to see that he’d been made a fool of. Calvin shrieks his discontent. Our wealthy bounty-hunter heroes know they have come into deadly trouble. "For the Right Nigger you'd be willing to pay what some would consider a ridiculous amount... it would appear that Broomhilda is, 'The Right Nigger'…the price is twelve-thousand dollars." He opens Schultz’s wallet and counts out that agreed-upon $12,000. Schultz clearly has more money than that in his wallet. Candie only takes his due. A very easy, a very common solution to such a dilemma would simply be that these characters not have the money, but Tarantino remained true to his characters. Though this scene revolved around money, money was not the issue. It was subterfuge rather than silver, disrespect rather than dollars that brought us to the tipping point.

For as ridiculously dramatic and outrageously fictional Tarantino can make a scene, this is a shining example of how seriously he takes his storytelling. It’s tight. We know things will go badly and squibs will fly, but never for a bullshit reason, never ignoring the story just to get on with it. This is why I love Quentin Tarantino’s writing. Because this… glourious… scene was written in such a way that our characters could easily deal with, Tarantino had to go elsewhere for the needed conflict. In that, he took us down a far more original path. It was a path that lengthened the suspense. It was a path that allowed Django to be unchained even further by his friend, by his mentor, and by his nonetheless white master Dr. King Schultz. It becomes the scene where Django must, alone, come to his own or fail.

The Good and The Bad... they're both ugly.
The Good and The Bad... they're both ugly.

With 110 instances of the N-word in its script, Tarantino’s Django Unchained was bound to create racial controversy, and might have broken records for the amount of times it’s used in a film – sadly the internet doesn’t have that record-holding film’s title handy, let me know if you do. For as much as The Word To End All Words is something worthy of discussion, I’ll leave that to someone else, mainly because I’ll have a hard time getting social taboos in edgewise while I’m gushing about how Django Unchained is an almost perfect and unique and incredibly written and superbly acted and did I mention how it’s an almost perfect film?

Let’s get the ‘what’ out of the way for those of you who let this fly under your radar. Loosely based on the 1966 Western Django, this is a tale set in the slave-era American South of 1858. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a German bounty hunter looking for help to find three wanted brothers. Since Django the chained slave (Jamie Foxx) can identify them, he is purchased by the equality-minded Schultz, brought into the bounty-hunting life and made free. Django and Schultz become good friends. Django tells of his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and how she was taken from him and sold to wealthy and powerful plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Schultz is more than happy to come up with a plan to reunite the two. As with most of Quentin’s movies, it’s a fairly simple three-act tale of justice written and directed with the same prowess and flair as Inglourious Basterds and Kill Bill.

While completely in line with being a historical Tarantino, Django Unchained is far from being historical fiction. It’s full of anachronisms, like dynamite not having been invented for another seven years, or using Tupac in the soundtrack. The only historical link to ‘Mandingo fighting’ is 1975’s racist yet worthy cult trash film Mandingo. Also I’m fairly certain that three-sided yellow-tinted sunglasses were also not something too common in 1858. These little dollops of style remind us that this is a filmic fantasy and not to be taken too seriously. Several comic scenes drive this home: there’s the first time Django is allowed to dress in whatever manner he desires, choosing something foppishly gay and garishly hilarious; there’s a particularly funny KKK pre-raid discussion about the crappy eyeholes that were cut out of the bags they’re wearing on their heads. But, when the message needs to come across, it does. Tarantino explores an extremely dark time in America’s past, perhaps not with honesty, but with responsibility. Repeatedly and contemptibly hammering the N-word to the audience is an incredible way of putting us in the era, to really feel how disgraceful that time in history was. The brutalities are epic, the villains evil, and the vengeance sought after.

And of course he's a gifted natural with that pistol.
And of course he's a gifted natural with that pistol.

It’s obvious that Quentin wrote this movie with a few key actors in mind, most notably Christoph Waltz who won an Academy Award for his role in Inglourious Basterds. Another thing Quentin does to spark the synapses of the pop-culture-loving crowd is to till the soil of “where-are-they-now?” talent and bring them back for us to enjoy once again, mixing them with the old Tarantino cast staples. The names are plentiful: Samuel L. Jackson is back as the head of the household. I was glad to see Walton Goggins, whom I adored as the redneckest character in FX’s “The Shield” series. There’s the beautifully-bearded Don Johnson; a surprise, dare I say cameo, appearance by Franco Nero, the man who played Django in the original 1966 film; there’s Bruce Dern, famous for various TV shows, as well as Silent Running and Family Plot. The I-didn’t-see-him-until-his-name-came-up-in-the-credits underground cinema great Tom Savini is here too. You may remember him as the bandit leader in the original Dawn Of The Dead. And yes, we also get Quentin himself, playing an Australian taking slaves to the LeQuint mines – very cute. It’s unfortunate that I only saw a little of silky-voiced Tarantino regular Michael Parks, whom I immediately loved for his role in Red State. I’m sure I’ve missed a few puzzle-piece tributes that Tarantino included, but recognizing the players is certainly a fun part of Django Unchained. Yet, for as incredible as Foxx and Waltz are, it’s DiCaprio that steals the show this time, with a characters that is reprehensible, believable and impassioned.

Whenever I see a new release in theaters, I wonder if it will make next year’s edition of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die tome. I wonder if summer blockbuster The Avengers, or David Cronenburg’s Cosmopolis and Wes Anderson’s awesome Moonrise Kingdom will make next year’s list. I don’t have any doubt that Django Unchained is already slated for the 2014 edition. My first official predictive 1001-list review is a no brainer. If it somehow doesn’t manage to be included, it would be as surprising an upset as Donnie Darko.

And Goddamn he's beautiful!
And Goddamn he's beautiful!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 86% (Will Keep You Chained To Your Seat)

For those of you who skipped the spoiler bit, my favourite scene in Django Unchained was also a scene that Leonardo DiCaprio genuinely injured himself doing (careful spoilers). The blood on the screen is really his. He kept in character, even using the blood as a prop, making a horrible moment ever more horrific.

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Hmmmmm... I was planning on skipping this one, but you had to make me reconsider.  Damn you!!!

"Reconsider." That's my job.

Let's be honest, they probably performed that horrific act where Leonardo uses his own blood as a prop in a different take than the one with Leo's actual blood. It's incredibly unethical for them to involve Kerry Washington otherwise, Leo and Quentin are not psychopaths.

Funny, I was just discussing that with a filmmaking friend. That she let it be used in the scene makes her a great actress. She could absolutely have yelled cut or broke character. if she used it, that puts her in a great camp of The Method. Some could just as easily argue that NOT using the truthful moment would be just as unethical.

I wish one could make an argument for that, but that's just not the case. There's right and there's wrong and there's a time to be practical and a time to be artistic. Like I said, DiCaprio and Tarantino are artists, not psychos. They know better than to wipe somebody's blood spontaneously on an actress' face. They'd be in worse legal trouble than a production is worth, even if Washington had no problem with it (which in itself is not likely).

It's great that Leo is so dedicated to his craft that he kept in character with his take and showcased his ill care for himself in such a diabolical performance. But he's a guy who knows better than to just force himself onto another being on camera in a performance that is meant to be solely exhibition.

Remember Maria Schneider's feeling of traumatization with Last Tango in Paris. Remember John C. Reilly walked out of Manderlay because Lars Von Trier (genius that he is) had ill regard for life and had a donkey killed and his death filmed for the movie. What if they actually used footage from Brandon Lee's death for The Crow? What if John Landis decided he liked the grim idea of using the ill-fated take of The Twilight Zone: The Movie? These things are just not right. Whether for art or otherwise, anybody who thinks it's okay to do such things when there are better and in some cases more powerful means, is really just not fit to hold a film production.

Well killing is entirely different than using a convenient error like bloodying yourself, and between you and me, animal deaths, intentional or otherwise should never be used exploitively. I heard recently that animal handlers for The Hobbit took very poor care of horses. But I digress.

What I wanted to add is that stuntmen sign waivers saying if they're killed the company is not liable. This is standard. I've seen interviews with stuntmen saying that they would want their final ill-fated car-flip stunt to be used; if they died to make the shot, the studio had better damn well use that shot, otherwise their death was for nothing... certainly a compelling argument, and one that goes with a common 'the show must go on' showbiz mentality.

For as much as you may very well be correct about legal recourse and appropriate reactions, it is still quite possible that Washington DID let it happen, and was glad to go the extra mile. We've all heard of litigious divas rushing off to their trailers, but we also know of devoted method actors, who will go to disgusting lengths to learn their role: see the last line in this Audition review - I read that either on IMDb or Wikipedia.

In the end it's up to the individuals to declare their limit, and I personally believe that Washington let DiCaprio put his character's blood on her character's face. That she wasn't ACUALLY her character may well not have been an issue at that time. Personally I would not have had a problem with getting someone's blood on my face for the sake of art. Also, I think nobody would have blamed her if she had put her hand up and said "No Way". I will bet that the decision was made in the moment, and could have very well been unspoken.

Man I'd love to talk to you about this at length, this is a great discussion.

Let's agree on this: If this were a Lars Von Trier production, Lars would have INSISTED the blood be used, and would have flipped out on Washington if she'd not have let Leo drip all over her...

These are very good points you make and yes, this was a great discussion.


And that definitely would have been a Lars Von Trier move... 

I hope it doesn't end up on the list, even though I think the movie was enjoyable.  There doesn't seem to be much new here for QT.  Inglourious Basterds felt like it broke new ground (certainly there was much more tension in that movie).  This movie feels like the same setup, only now it's in the antebellum South and there is no doubt as to how it will end.  Additionally, this movie is stuck on the surface in a way that Basterds wasn't.


It's fine.  It's disgusting.  I'm glad I saw it.


But give me Inglourious Basterds. 

Another good point: "this movie is stuck on the surface in a way that Basterds". I definitely hear where your coming from.

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