Brief Film Synopsis: Quentin Tarantino directs a subversive Western concerning a newly freed slave, Django, played by Jamie Foxx. Django joins Christoph Waltz’s Schultz as a bounty hunter as the two men arrange a mutually beneficial deal. Django aides Schultz in the capturing of criminals and Schultz will help Django free his wife, a slave in Mississippi. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, the owner of Django’s wife (and an antagonist conjured by Tarantino and DiCaprio, who, the director admits, is the first villain he’s ever written that he didn’t like).
“Comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which he [the dramatist] representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful sort that may be, so as it is impossible that any beholder can be content to be such a one.” – Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesie (1595)
And so it is with Django Unchained.
Django is set in 1865 and stars Daniel Day-Lewis as President Lincoln as he attempts to pass the 13th amendment to abolish slavery. Hilarity ensues. Ha. Just kidding. Daniel Day–Lewis does not star in Django but the film is set in 1858 in The South where slavery reigns. Hilarity ensues.
Thus, it is the very tension of a comedy set in 1858 American slavery that makes Tarantino’s eighth film so controversial, so absurd, so bizarre and such a must-see. Does your sense of humor appreciate the incongruity of placing a Tarantino bloodbath revenge fantasy in a narrative of American slavery? If so, then Django Unchained does not disappoint as the film is definitely a Tarantino production depicting a slave’s bloody revenge on the evil-doers around him. No surprises. Just Tarantino bloodshed. Tarantino tunes. Tarantino wit. Even Tarantino’s use of Christoph Waltz reminisces his use of Waltz’s star turn in Inglourious Basterds. Plus: Samuel L. Jackson also stars.
Django Unchained is every bit a Quentin Tarantino production, but this time, the word “nigger” has a starring role and instead of the contemporary background of smooth talking bank robbers, crooks, and assassins, Tarantino challenges his cool in a film portraying slavery. Not a film merely referencing or tiptoeing around the subject of slavery, as Tarantino’s last feature, Inglourious Basterds did with the Holocaust. Tarantino films a subject already equipped with human brutality and sadism. I wish there were a film documenting Tarantino’s writing process of Django Unchained.
Thus, regarding the merit of Django Unchained: well, it’s a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. So, the blood looks great. Tarantino’s revenge-ridden script is elevated by three outstanding performances in Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. Waltz imbues the formal discourse and tongue-in-cheek wit of his Basterds’ Hans Landa persona. But this time Waltz is a bounty hunter guided by moral law. Foxx and DiCaprio, however, are the real surprises here, for Waltz is as perfectly cast as you’d expect. Foxx is convincing as Django, the free man who only has eyes for his wife and her freedom. He plays Django’s coolness with reticent badassery. Foxx’s turn as Django actually reminded me of Ryan Gosling’s The Driver from Drive. Both characters are exercises in stylized stoicism of protagonists in contemporary film.
Leonardo DiCaprio, on the other hand, plays a character who cannot get enough of himself, and thus, his character, Calvin Candie, who prefers to go by Monsieur Candie, talks a lot. And fortunately for us. DiCaprio, who I can’t help but think would not have played this role as he did if it were not for Brad Pitt’s cartoonish Lt. Aldo Raine of Inglourious Basterds, is on film as you’ve never seen him before. I read in an interview with Tarantino that DiCaprio brought various layers to the character of Candie. Such efforts of DiCaprio are evident as Candie adds more objects of derision in Django. The mockery of a wealthy man obsessed with appearing cultured and sophisticated while leading a tacky and morally corrupt life is enough of a premise for a feature film (or just watch the documentary Queen of Versailles). Schultz and Candie walk into a bar. The two men order their drinks. “Prost,” Schultz says. “German”, Candie musters, the most embarrassingly impotent of possible responses.
There are sequences of the narrative which ring extraneous viz. the relevant lessons of the story would be just as impactful in the absence of those sequences. As such, the tail-end of Django is something of an exercise in gratuity and this unnecessary elongation unduly handicaps an otherwise stellar production. Put simply: the ending of Django is anti-climatic.
Django Unchained is a film starring Tarantino elements in 1858 America. But Django is also a film featuring a director using a sophisticated humor of incongruity and historical reconstruction. Just as Inglourious Basterds relishes its revenge on Adolf Hitler, Django imports a fantasy of revenge on American slave owners. Tarantino, to paraphrase Sir Philip Sidney, uses comedy to portray these vices not for emulation, but for ridicule: the moral force of comedy is to correct mistakes and shortcomings, not to foster them.
The appeal for Academy voters: Tarantino’s last feature, 2009’s Inglourious Basterds earned the writer-director a Best Original Screenplay nod. He lost to Mark Boal’s script for The Hurt Locker, which went on to win Best Picture, famously. This year’s Oscars could see something quite similar with Tarantino nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Django and Boal nominated (and winning?) for Zero Dark Thirty. Regardless, the performances in Django are undeniable and Waltz did take home Best Supporting Actor for Inglourious only a few years ago. Waltz’s delightfully evil Colonel Hans Landa stood out in a film of otherwise capable performances. However, in Django, Foxx and DiCaprio are garnering awards attention as well, challenging even a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Waltz. A Best Original Screenplay nod is perhaps the most apt (and most likely) attention Django will receive from the Academy. But let’s not forget that Best Use of Blood During a Jim Croce Song is a shoo-in for Django on Oscar night.
Chani envisions a Hollywood where Daniel Day-Lewis or Michael Fassbender star as Ludwig Wittgenstein in a film based on Ray Monk’s biography, The Duty of Genius. Paul Thomas Anderson directs. Her Hollywood also casts Ezra Miller in Søren Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer. Anne Hathaway stars in Gaspar Noé’s next production. HBO debuts a travel show starring Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Tommy Wiseau as Tommy Wiseau. And Michael Haneke directs a sequel to The Seventh Continent. In 3D.
Her deepest thoughts are found at symposiumsays.com and you can follow her on twitter @RigidDesignator