Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Django Unchained

Imagine the scene, my excitement at sitting in a packed movie, in Leicester Square, London, having had a great night with my oldest and dearest friend, waiting for the start of Quentin Tarantino's much anticipated new movie..having loved most of his work (Grindhouse movies notwithstanding) yes Tarantino's slightly self indulgent, but I love the fact he's always pushing boundaries, testing the depths of cinema and astounding us with his witty heartfelt scripts, meticulously handpicked cast and buckets of cartoon blood. After the marathon three something hours, I left the throngs of people slightly disappointed. Call me dedicated, or slightly obsessive, but I went back today to see if I may have missed something in the first viewing. My love of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill and my adoration of Inglourious Basterds drove me to it... Django (Academy Award Winner Jamie Foxx) is a slave, unchained by a German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr King Schulz (Double Academy Award winner Christophe Waltz) he needs Django to identify some brothers (fraternal not cultural) so he can kill them, and in return offers him his freedom. After the brothers have been duly sent to hell, Dr Schulz offers Django a deal, to bounty hunt with him, (kill white men for money, what's not to like?) for the Winter, and then he will accompany him to Mississippi to track down his beloved german speaking wife Broomehilda von Schaft ( Von Schaft, really Quentin?), sold to a different slave trader. After the bloody Winter turns to a bloody Spring, Dr King is as good as his word and they track Broomhilda to the delighfully named CandieLand, a cotton plantation run by the cruel and sadistic sister-loving Mandingo-fighting advocate Calvin Candie (Academy Award nominee, nominee, not winner) Leonardo DiCaprio and his right hand man, Stephen (an unrecognisable Samuel L Jackson) an equally cruel and sadistic black slave. Will Django get his wife back? If so, just how will they pull it off? Well, the first thing to say is that the second time around, without the merlot haze clouding my judgement, I'm pleased to report that I really enjoyed this, loved it in fact. The universe is aligned again. But my initial gripes remain valid in my humble opinion but just not quite so vehemently as before. The interiors, costumes and locations are faultless. The scenery is quite spectacular from the magnificence of the mountain ranges to the claustrophobic oppressive elegance of the plantations. There were some beautifully surreal scenes that were worthy of Tarantino's name, standouts were the bag on the head scene with the forerunners of the Ku Klux Klan and any scene with Candie and Stephen. Christophe waltzes around the movie with the words tripping off his tongue as if he were born to speak them. The times when Waltz, DiCaprio or Jackson were on screen was sheer poetry, they are all masters of their craft. It's the first time we've seen Leonardo DiCaprio as a truly evil man, and whilst I'm sure some of the lines were very hard to say, he spits them out with an unctuous, reptilian sensuality which is truly terrifying and more than a little fun to watch. Why the Academy keep overlooking one of the greatest actors, not just of our generation, but in history, is just about beyond me. The dialogue artfully captures the complex, absurd and downright unfathomable relationships between black slaves/freemen and white slave owners. I don't think I've ever seen a film which brings home just ever so slightly as close as I ever want to come to seeing how society behaved in those shocking times. There has been debate that mandingo fighting was not a sport associated with slavery, I actually think that's irrelevant. Plenty of horrendous crimes against humanity happened then, let's not quibble about how people were tortured. The script was not as eloquent or maze like as Inglourious basterds sadly. There were the usual enjoyable in-jokes, Dr King is an advocate of racial equality, Candie's lawyer was happy if you called him Leo, and at the dinner table, Candie's sister asked Dr King to regale them tales of the circus, a nod to his turn as ringmaster in 'Water for Elephants' perhaps? The plot was a little too straighforward for a Tarantino film, and there seemed to be a glaring character disparity that was pivotal to the plot. Towards the end of the film, Dr Schultz makes a life changing decision that redirects the course of everyone's lives. This decision just didn't ring true, his justification was "I just couldn't help myself" but throughout the rest of the film he's portrayed as a calm and reasoned thinker, always one step ahead of the game when others around them are losing their head. He surely would have thought of a much more clever and dynamic way of getting Candie back than the path he chose? Which leads me to my main issue with this otherwise magnificent film, and it's a big issue, which splits into two roads. Quentin Tarantino is a genius at picking the right man for the job. When others wouldn't give him voice over work, he saw the potential in John Travolta and gave him the gift of Vincent Vega. Time and again we've seen it, most recently with Christophe Waltz, catapulting him from European to Hollywood fame and in the process, he rightfully earned himself two supporting actor Oscars. In Django there are a number of actors who crop up who you would never have imagined being cast but who are brilliant. Sadly, Quentin's judgement was clouded (possibly by merlot?) when he cast Jamie Foxx in the titular role of Django. Love them or hate them, Quentin's actors all have one thing in common, charisma or in the words of Dr Schultz, panache. Poor Mr Foxx has neither. I have no idea what he's like in real life, but on screen, he shows not an ounce of humour or flair. Sorry to upset the applecart but there I've said it. I just didn't care enough about his character, Django should have been dynamic, swaggering and not a little tongue in cheek. The others, yes, but him no. In a Tarantino film you don't have to be a brilliant actor, although it helps, but you do have to be in on the joke, Jamie doesn't seem to have been told the punch line here. I would have liked to have seen Don Cheadle in the role, a great actor with professional comedic timing and a twinkle in his eye. Failing Don, what about bringing some unknown talent to the fore? This leads to the my other point, there was just no chemistry between Kerry Washington, who rather insipidly played Broomhilda and Jamie Foxx, the two in what is an essentially very romantic film, mustered up about as much sexual tension as a badger and a book. Candie and his sister had more, now how sick and very Tarantinoesque is that? DJANGO UNCHAINED:Needs to unchain the heart a little 8/10.

1 comment:

  1. Hope this lets me comment...great review...who would have thought that you were a DiCaprio fan??? Agree about Jamie Foxx...quite one dimensional...