Saturday, 9 February 2013

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Django Unchained

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Produced by: Stacey Sher
Reginald Hudlin
Pillar Savone

Screenplay by: Quentin Tarantino

Starring: Jamie Foxx
Christoph Waltz
Leonardo DiCaprio
Kerry Washington
Samuel L. Jackson

Music by: Various Artists

Cinematography by: Robert Richardson

Editing by: Fred Raskin

Studio: A Band Apart

Distributed by: The Weinstein Company (United States)
Columbia Pictures (International)

Release date(s): December 25, 2012 (United States)
January 18, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 165 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $100 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $310, 413, 132

Rightio, shootin' from the hip, we've got Django Unchained, the new film from Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino has been in an interesting period of his career, for since the beginning of the 2000's he's essentially been making these rambunctious exploitation movies which hark back to films he loved growing up. It must be said that they are of a varying quality; the two-parter Kill Bill (which I consider one whole movie to be watching in a single sitting) is a terrific epic, his Death Proof of the Grindhouse project being woeful and Inglourious Basterds, while good, suffers from a serious case of Tarantino's inability to reign himself in. Django Unchained is a continuation of that line, being an amalgam of spaghetti western (the source of the title being Sergio Corbucci's Django and also Hercules Unchained) and things like Mandingo among others of the blaxploitation genre. The film has gotten controversy, as many of Tarantino's films do, regarding not only it's violent content, but also the way in which it addresses the history of slavery in America. With context out of the way, here's the story: Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave, who after being freed by dentist-cum-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), goes in search of his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), which brings them into correspondence with her current owner, the charming and savage plantation runner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Blah blah done, let's get crackin'!

Starting with the good about Django Unchained, I'll make a stand and grab the bull by the horns, for I think that this is an interesting way to tackle the issue of racism. So many different movies are serious about challenging racism, and the filmmakers forget that it is an inherently absurd thought process perpetuated by misguided balloons. In that regard, Tarantino's dialogue is as barbed and sharp as ever, with some of the scenes in this film being very memorable indeed. It's quotable stuff, with whole scenes and individual set-pieces being a display of the exemplar quality we expect from him. Also, the cast, included an understated Jamie Foxx and devilish DiCaprio is pretty much on top form for the whole part, but I'd like to flag up two specifically. In Christoph Waltz, the director may have found his greatest  acting collaborator. Waltz's whole diction and pronunciation of the dialogue is full of the brilliance we saw in Inglourious AHEM!, but he plays Schultz as a different character. He's a Melmothian wanderer with a ton of world-wise wit, and in my opinion, Waltz is the standout performer. Nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the upcoming Oscars, I'd be putting him in the Lead Actor category frankly. Also, in between the Mothafucka's, Samuel L. Jackson is a great actor, and he is great as the conflicted and hypocritical senior house slave Stephen. Constantly double-taking a la James Finlayson and muttering under his breath, Jackson brings a physical subtlety to the part, so much so that it's easy to forget that this 'old man' was also the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 2012. Finally, praise must be garnered on Robert Richardson's cinematography. As one of the few cinematographers (along with the likes of Roger Deakins) who shoots a film in this contemporary period that still looks like film. The crisp clarity of his images and the colour palette is stellar, and is one of the outstanding qualities of Django Unchained.

However, while I consider this a good movie and an upward step from Inglourious Bastereds, it is still deeply problematic. At the centre of the issues with the film is Tarantino himself. Django Unchained is 165 minutes long, and frankly it could have been whittled down to 100 minutes. While he writes solid dialogue, his script is structurally bloated and slow, taking an age to get anywhere. Also, as a director he seems unaware of the problems with his script, and as such the pacing of the film has a constant stop-start feel to it that is troublesome to get into. The thing about the films that he invokes like Corbucci's Django, The Great Silence and (although not referenced, worth mentioning) Jamaa Fanaka's Penitentiary is that they were all about 100 minutes long. They are entertaining, exploitation-esque genre movies, but still manage to deal with issues of race and class-war politics in a digestible manner. Django Unchained is a bloated whale of a movie and what Tarantino needs is to be deprived of a budget and have someone like Roger Corman beat him with a stick, telling him "100 minutes, a nightclub scene, an explosion and a two-week shooting schedule."

Django Unchained has a lot going for it. The cast, particularly Waltz and Jackson, is uniformly terrific, Robert Richardson's cinematography is great, Tarantino writes strong dialogue and I like the way that he addresses race politics with this film. However, he has no insight as to how bloated this movie is and how the constant digressions distill a lot of what the film is getting at, and following on from his recent work, it is a case of The Emperor's New Clothes. It disappoints me because Pulp Fiction was an incendiary bottle-rocket that shook cinema to its core and remains indefinable to this day. Django Unchained is a good movie, but I expect much much more. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (wrapping up this years work on the movies)

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