What movie was that...?

13 January 2013

Django Unchained

directed by Quentin Tarantino

Some of you were already familiar with the legend of Django when the rumors surfaced of a Quentin Tarantino western about revenge in the Antebellum South. For those familiar, it was a prospect almost too good to be true. One of my generation’s finest filmmakers contributing a new chapter to the grand Django canon. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, allow me to school your ass. Since Sergio Corbucci brought the original Django to the big screen with the tale of a coffin dragging gunslinger who goes up against damn near everyone (and from whose film QT pulled the title song for Unchained), the myth of Django has seen many sequels and permutations, most notably (and recently) Takashi Miike’s badass film Sukiyaki Western Django (which is something of a Django origin story). Django is another kind of filmic Chen Zhen, an archetype on which filmmakers hang their visions. For Unchained, Tarantino has transformed that archetype into a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) whose friendship with a bounty hunter (the spectacular Christoph Waltz) leads him on a path of revenge. Jamie Foxx is out of sight as Django, firing on all cylinders for the first time in a long time as he kills his way through the wild and racist West. Christoph Waltz is as astounding as always as King Schultz, the bounty hunter who frees, mentors and befriends Django. Hats off to Leonardo DiCaprio, who not only plays an actual character for the first time in ages, but who appears to be having fun as well (though I cannot confirm or deny such a claim). Gone are DiCaprio’s trademark scowl and/or look of furious disgust, replaced by a spectrum of unhinged delight that rivals Sam Rockwell’s Billy Bickle in Seven Psychopaths. All deserved praise aside, I didn’t love Unchained the way I love so many of QT’s other films. The passion for film is there, to be sure, but the magic was lacking. In addition, it was bizarre to hear not just contemporary songs in a QT film, but original songs that he actually commissioned specifically for Unchained. But I will never pass up a chance to see Franco Nero (the original Django from Corbucci’s classic) size up the new Django (Nero is one of my favorite parts of the film, hands down).

What perhaps disappointed me the most about Django Unchained was its complete lack of female characters with depth. Kerry Washington is a phenomenal actress, and strong female roles have become (for me, at least), a welcome and necessary element of Tarantino films, which is vital and important for filmic culture as a whole. I can appreciate the historical context of the world in which the film functions, but Tarantino's clearly revisionist zest could have easily accommodated such welcomed spirit from the ladies. For shame, QT.

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