Saturday, January 19, 2013

Movie Review: Django Unchained (2012)

Django Unchained marks a growth in Quentin Tarantino's directing strategy. The movie's pacing is languid, for one; and two, music helps moves the story along, by functioning almost like a voice-over. In terms of the former, Tarantino devotes numerous shots to cantering riders and walking people. I think that choice of cinematography emphasizes the languorous rhythm of the South. As for the latter, sometimes the musical cues become heavy-handed, but all the songs are excellent, and they each have something to say about what's happening onscreen. The writing, as always, is riddled with sharp humor and bombastic explosions.

The movie centers on Django (Jamie Foxx), freed from slavery by the meticulous and unflappable Dr. King Schulz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter. Dr. King initially takes Django with him to help identify three criminal brothers. Then Dr. King decides to accompany Django after the former slave reveals that he wants to find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was sold separately from him as punishment for their escape attempt. The two eventually find her in the plantation called Candieland, and pose as buyers to engage Candieland's owner, Monsieur Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). But Msr. Candie's head house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) has his suspicions...

The institution of slavery threatens to overwhelm the individual characters, and it's a credit to the director and his actors that they manage to overcome that challenge. The slave trackers and plantation owners are nearly cartoons, but then so is Django himself, dressed ridiculously in the scene where he takes his first step toward revenge for all the beatings he took. DiCaprio, as expected, goes to town with the scenery. At one point, he actually cuts his hand -- for real -- during a scene, and he never breaks character or misses a beat. He even incorporates his blood into his performance for that take. Waltz is his usual amazing self, blending extreme competence with an almost absurd good cheer. And as the titular character, Foxx carries the film with his prideful eyes and barely suppressed rage.

Of course, the director being who he is, gallons of blood fly through the air as defiant songs play in the background. Unspeakable violence occurs onscreen. Characters utter lines that would get them kicked out of polite social situations. At our screening, the audience lapped it up. We cheered, we laughed, we hooted, and we clapped. Tarantino knows how to craft a crowd pleaser, that's for sure. This is a fantastic pulp movie, as we all knew it would be. That's why we went. We wanted to see what slavery looks like when the tables are turned. We wanted to listen to sick beats when revenge becomes a man. Most of all, we wanted to see the triumphant grin of a winner whose victory has been so long, painful, and bloody in coming. And boy, does Jamie Foxx deliver the biggest shit-eating grin of all time. I want to caption that screenshot so bad, but I can't find it yet. So I leave you with this gif:

THE D IS SILENT. Because D stand for "delicate," and if that's what you're expecting, you've come to the wrong movie. Otherwise, come on in, kick back, and enjoy the ride. Then get the soundtrack.