Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Django Unchained (review)

I'm torn. Assuming you can deal with the level of gore Tarantino brings to the table, Django Unchained is undoubtedly a fun movie. And if you're looking for a thinking man's movie it has enough symbology thrown in to keep you occupied (although I doubt any minds will be or have been blown). But there was definitely something missing.

Perhaps the problem is that there was, strictly speaking, something not missing, that there was simply too much movie. Django does clock in at over two and a half hours after all. But it wasn't a feeling of boredom that came over during the final act. It was confusion.

Why do Django and Dr. Schultz create this fiction about aspiring to run their own mandingo fights (a sport that may have in fact never existed)?* According to the movie itself, the reason is to get M. Candie's attention, but as we move forward it becomes clear that what catches M. Candie's eyes & ears is the dollar figure itself, not the party's interest in mandingo fighting. So just offer the $12,000 for Broomhilda and be done with it (Schultz doesn't seem in too much pain parting with his money and M. Candie likewise in parting with his slave).

Because of this I had trouble getting into the tension between the good guys and Candie. Without question Candie is a scary dude. You don't mess with someone who gets off watching two men beat the life out of each other. The problem is that this realization brings to mind the question, "why, then, are they messing with him?" If he would've simply been uninterested in $12,000 for a slave (who Candie concedes is worth probably only $200) that's fine, but include like a five second clip of them attempting this (under a false name, perhaps) so that I can get behind the tension while they all sit at the dining room table together.

The only reason I can come up with why Django and Schultz wouldn't do this is that they don't want to get a bad deal ($12,000 for something worth $200 is quite a mark-up). But wait, they're both risking their lives for this girl. And even if they weren't, $12,000 seems a paltry sum when the duo can made almost that much off a single bounty.

How's that for mountains out of mole hills?

Considering that's the biggest problem I had I think the movie is still largely worth seeing, especially if you like Tarantino's other films. His trademark style is definitely here, although not in as full force as in greats like Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction or even his recent Inglorious Basterds. But the camera work, costumes, and soundtrack all stood out for me, and as usual the violence was very enjoyable.

In a related manner, I'm pretty angry at whoever decided it was okay to put Leo's introductory close-up in trailers. That is not okay. You ruined his character's intro and part of his impact goes with it. Quit your job.

Another reason to go see this movie is Christoph Waltz. I'm struggling not to waste this blog's first instance of profanity on Waltz's performance. He is awesome. And I mean awesome awesome. If the movie didn't have Django's name in the title I would have assumed he was the main character right up until final act. He deserves without a doubt the Golden Globe he already received and definitely deserves the chance he's been given at the Oscar.

Finally, for an action/drama about revenge and stuff the movie is rather funny. Jonah Hill makes us laugh at the KKK and some of the dialogue in general inspired some giggles on my part (in a good way).

So, I'm going to close this review with a quick look at its theoretical value. Sorry I could think of a better transition.

For a movie about a freed slave attempting to free his love from slavery as well, I thought the movie had surprisingly little to say about slavery. The most moving scene for me was when Quentin first brings us to Mississippi and we see the condition of the slaves there. But this shot lasts only long enough for the name of the state to scroll across the screen. Additionally, the movie's solution to the tragedy of slavery seems to be a sort of glorified eye for an eye. Without going into too deep of an analysis of revenge here, other movies have dealt with this topic in more nuanced ways with more trivial subjects (Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance trilogy comes quickly to mind).**

What I thought the movie did do a really good job with was the relationship of the law to violence. Schultz embodies perfectly the unrecognized mythic violence*** underlying the law in his character of the bounty hunter. This led to some disappointment on my part when we transitioned from bounty hunting to loved-one saving. (Can we maybe just have a Christoph Waltz being a bounty hunter movie? I think he's earned it.) In any case, the scene where Schultz informs a town marshal that he owes Schultz $200 for killing the same town's sheriff was excellent.

Would I recommend this to win Best Picture? Probably not. Would you enjoy this movie, especially if you brought along some friends, friends who perhaps also enjoy Tarantino's directing style or who like a good western? Definitely.




*Perhaps it's to further the metatheatrical thread Quentin started when the bounty hunters need covers to access their targets' locations, but then he needs to do something to solve the contrived nature of the tension.

**Also, while killin' lots of dudes makes for an enjoyable movie, forgiveness is a much more traumatic method of revenge. For more on this stay tuned for my review of Les Miserables.

***For more on mythic and other categories of violence, check out my essay on violence published here.

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