Rating: 3.75 of 5
I don’t think anyone would deny that Quentin Tarantino is a talented filmmaker. He also has a style so when you go to one of his movies you pretty much know what you’re getting yourself into.
So, I can’t say that Django Unchained surprised me, especially after seeing the panel at Comic Con this past year.
It’s bloody and violent and even though I was expecting it, it still kind of surprised me in the beginning and a few other times.
There’s course dialog but also a lot of wit and unexpected, smart lines. I do like dry humor so I laugh more at Tarantino than most comedies. It’s sometimes a little crude for me to laugh but not to recognize how well it’s written.
The performances, I thought, were also good. It’s odd to see DiCaprio as the villain, but there were shades of some of his other characters in there; in Candie’s naivete and when he was confronting Django and Schultz. I can’t put my finger on it but that yelling and that need for approval were familiar shades of him.
Christoph Waltz is amazing and pulled off a very soft and good but also ruthless character. (And this is a fantastic interview discussing Waltz’s character and how that drives the story). Jamie Foxx and everyone else were also good. Each of the characters were so distinct, so remarkably unique and the actors distinguished them well. Foxx balanced adaptable and hardened with innocent and fearless. In fact, I think it was the contradictions in their character that made each of them sort of fascinating. But I think I empathized with Kerry Washington the most because even though she had a relatively small role it was so crucial and so much was asked of her. I think she was kind of amazing.
That’s what I think intrigued me most – this is how Quentin Tarantino does a love story. He lays it all out there for you in naming Broomhilda and then giving the viewer the German story in the middle. Django is going to go through the fires of hell and it’s Tarantino so you know fairly well what that’s going to look like. But it wasn’t just the bloody shoot-out; the fires of hell for his character was also about becoming something he despised without flinching; convincing Candie he was cruel and merciless. But you could also see his vulnerability and the way he and Hildi cared for each other and were devoted to one another. The through-line of this bloody mess is the love between these two people.
But Tarantino is a man of many words and layers and subtext and themes so telling a love story doesn’t keep this from also pointing a hard, cold finger at the inhumanity of slavery and what men are capable of doing to one another. The mandingo fight was perhaps the most unsettling moment in the film not because of its violence but because of the horrible, horrible brutality of seeing these men not only living as property of someone else but being forced to fight in such a raw, savage way and ultimately to kill one another. I could feel that moment stealing their humanity and it was awful.
And yet, I have to admit, no matter how talented Tarantino is; how skilled and sharp and nuanced of a filmmaker he can be, I don’t have fun the way I delight in watching other films. I recognize how good he is. I can talk about how well he’s done various things. I can rate all the elements mostly well. But it makes me wish I had a score that reflects how much I enjoyed a movie. Since I don’t I can’t quite bring myself to rate things as highly as maybe they would have otherwise been rated.