January 13, 2013

Django Unchained (2012)

"With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner."

If it wasn't for director Alex Cox's "Videodrome" series on BBC back in the '90s, I would never have known who or what "Django" was. Sure, I'd seen a fair amount of "Spaghetti Westerns" over the years, but apart from the big three Clint Eastwood ones, I couldn't have cared less about them. The thing with "Django" though which made it stand out was its bloodiness. If you've never seen it, you definitely need to check out the original 1966 movie starring Franco Nero.

Obviously, all this was long before Quentin Tarantino started slinging his invented word "grindhouse" about as if everyone would automatically know what it meant and pretending that he was making 20th (and now 21st) century equivalents along with his buddy Robert Rodriguez. I never bought into the hype and, apart from "Pulp Fiction", I can't say that I've enjoyed any of Quentin Tarantino's films until now.

Everyone's tastes changes as they get older though so I was willing to give "Django Unchained" the benefit of the doubt in spite of already knowing the huge plot and race changes that didn't inspire me with any confidence. I'm still not a Tarantino fan, but I actually enjoyed a lot of what he had to offer this time.

The story is fairly unoriginal with huge borrowings from every "white guilt" movie set in the days of American slavery along with more than a hint of "Maverick" and "Unforgiven" thrown in for good measure. In some ways, "Django Unchained" seems hell-bent on dividing the races as much as "Braveheart" tried to do with the English and Scots due to its historical inaccuracies. Obviously, it's designed to be as controversial as possible, but "Django Unchained" is far more accurate in other ways than even "Roots". No matter which race or country you belong to, there's always a lot to hate about American history.

But enough of that. I'm not here to write an essay about slavery or racism in America. You only have to browse a few YouTube videos to know that it's as real today as it ever was. I'm here to write about films and, in particular, this film (such as it is) with all of its subtextual preaching and in your face action scenes.

In my opinion, the blood, gore and psychological more than physical torture in "Django Unchained" is worthy of any horror movie. In nearly every gunfight, gunshots cause over-the-top blood to splatter even onto the camera lens with big lumps of meat following. Can I hear the word "Lush!" from anyone? Oh, yes, there will be and there is blood! Don't watch this if you love horses either!

The characters are mostly likeable too although Christoph Waltz easily steals every scene. Django will always be Franco Nero to me, and in spite of metaphorically handing over the reigns in a bar scene cameo, there's no way that I will ever accept Jamie Foxx as his replacement. I tried to, but Jamie Foxx goes through so many personality changes during the film that it's impossible to take him seriously. Can anyone please tell me why he chose to play Django as a gay for the last 10 minutes? I don't understand that at all.

The biggest standouts are Don Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Tarantino's favourite Samuel L. Jackson. While Big Daddy (Johnson) also brings an unfortunately comic "Klan" scene with him which only serves as unnecessary padding, Calvin Candy (DiCaprio) and Stephen (Jackson) have some of the best chemistry in the whole movie. In fact, they have more chemistry than Django and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) which is quite disconcerting.

At the end of the day, "Django Unchained" is a rather enjoyable cowboy-action movie with lots of gunfire, explosions and a backdrop of Southern American slavery to make it look like some thought went into it. Change a few races and you'd have an episode of the "Maverick" or "Alias Smith and Jones" TV series with all their quirky scams. Remove the Wild West gunfights and you'd have the first season of "Roots" without any sympathetic characters.

As a "popcorn flick", "Django Unchained" is one of the better ones. It's a bit too long at 2 hours and 45 minutes, but there isn't a lot of lag unless you absolutely loathe the Western genre or contemporary music being used anachronistically.

Has Quentin Tarantino redeemed himself? Almost, but no, not really. Be warned, he can't do a convincing Australian accent either.

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