Cinepub


2012 BEST PICTURE ROUND UP: Django Unchained by Jamie

Finally the UK has the chance to see the latest revenge epic from Quentin Tarantino. It’s a formula that we should all be pretty familiar with at this point. Take an established genre and weave a stylised revenge narrative through said genre’s filter. It was the kung-fu genre in Kill Bill, the World War 2 genre in Inglorious Basterds and it’s the turn of the Western (or Southern as it’s being promoted) in Django Unchained.

The film essentially follows the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave freed by the German dentist/bounty hunter Dr King Schulz (Christoph Waltz). Schulz frees Django because he has need of his help hunting down some of his targets. Along the way Schulz makes Django his partner, training him in the ways of the bounty hunter with the promise that, when the winter passes they will go and free his enslaved wife who Django became separated from as punishment for trying to escape from a former owner. In order to rescue her they must travel to the Candyland plantation owned by Mandingo fighter trader Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

That’s probably about as bare-bones as I can keep the synopsis without giving away too much away so let’s get in to the meat of the proceedings. Django Unchained is Tarantino at his Tarntino-est. That’s probably the best way to sum up this film in a simple, single sentence. Basterds was the film that showed what he could get away with up to a point and Unchained is his next logical evolution. It’s the kind of film that no one else in Hollywood could get away with. In fact, if anyone else had tried to make this film it probably would have resembled something more like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a low budget affair which would have gone largely unwatched and rightfully so. With Tarantino at the helm, this is pure unadulterated awesome. Everything is over the top and it’s beautiful to revel in.

It has everything we’ve come to expect from the director. Gratuitous violence, excessive bad language, extreme nods to exploitation cinema (including an appearance from the actor who originally portrayed Django) and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s all here. Again, these are all elements that could add up to nothing more than a shitty B-movie under the eye of anyone else but amongst all these elements, Tarantino also manages to include an incredibly engaging story that’s beautifully shot and a joy to watch.

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable things about this film is that Tarantino removes one of his most common reference points by the time period this film is set in: cinema. Now obviously the film is still peppered with cinematic references throughout but this time it’s merely through style. There’s no dialogue referencing film as there is in everything else. Hell, even Inglorious Basterds has it in spades. And yes, overall I think this makes Unchained all around a better film with Tarantino really having to focus on the script without having the particular crutch of characters just discussing film and film philosophy for minutes at a time to fall back on.

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the controversy surrounding the film. Yes, the word ‘nigger’ is used a lot in this film. It’s uttered 110 times to be exact. I can see how some people would find this offensive and it’s probably that style that I mentioned earlier that would make it seem that way. If this were a sedate, “serious” movie like Amistad which gets a sheen of legitimacy because it’s based on an actual historical event and portrays the horrors of the slave trade without the filter of exploitation film making. It’s because Tarantino makes his movies in this particular style that his decision to use the word so many times can be seen as gratuitous as his use of violence. It’s in this film, however, that the bad language does serve a purpose. It’s a representation of what the South was like during that time. Would it be OK to show white people treating black people as nothing more than property but not have them using racial slurs? It’d be unrealistic. Yes, you can be politically correct and all that jazz but what you can’t do is whitewash a politically incorrect past. To do so is to belittle the suffering of the people who lived through those times and to learn absolutely nothing from that shameful past. It also helps from the point of view of the film in making the revenge aspect that much more satisfying.

Hell, this review is getting all over the place a bit now so let’s try and wrap things up a bit succinctly. This might just be Tarantino’s best film yet. The music is, as always, great particularly that opening theme. It looks amazing with the kind of beautiful shots that often make Westerns just incredible to look at. The performances are all pure class. I was going to say that Waltz and Jackson in particular stand out but honestly everyone is on the top of their game with DiCaprio playing the charming yet sadistic slave owner Candie with almost mustache-twirling finesse and Foxx playing Django slightly subdued, yet with dreams of vengeance always simmering beneath the surface, which is a nice counterbalance to everything else that’s going on. (Jackson is great though. It’s nice to see him playing someone other than Samuel L. Motherfucking Jackson.) This might also be the funniest film the director has done is a while with the proto-KKK scene in particular standing out. If I do have one criticism, it’s Tarantino’s cameo. His Australian accent is fucking terrible. I mean, really, really bad. But thankfully it’s a small scene.

So yeah, in summation, fuck me this film is great. It’s really fucking great. It absolutely deserves it’s best picture nomination. Go and see it. See it now. Five pints out of five. Fuck me, what a great fucking film. Laterz.

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