Django Unchained (2012)
85th Academy Awards 2013
Nominated for 5 awards, of which it won 2.
Nominated for Best Picture (Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone), Best Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman), and Best Cinematography (Robert Richardson).
Won Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz) and Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino).
Watched February 12, 2014.
Back in the day (and by that I mean the distant four years ago of my university days), I was a huge Quentin Tarantino fan. I was studying film, screenplays, editing, and acting. Tarantino is an original, extremist, mainstream director who combines old-school techniques (especially typography) with new age music to create an irony that is amusing and jarring. Tarantino loves reminding his audience that they are watching a movie. While most directors and editors want everything seamless and invisible, specifically in editing, Tarantino does the exact opposite. Even in his period films, he uses current societal trends to create humor because the audience recognizes that it is misplaced.
Django Unchained, while it is no Kill Bill, is no different. The setting is a couple years before slaves become free, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who was recently sold at auction. He crosses paths with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter, who purchases him and promises him his freedom if he helps him find three very valuable wanted men. Django’s main mission is to find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and after obtaining his freedom he continues to work with Schultz in order to find her. She was sold to one of the biggest plantations in the south, Candieland, where the crazed owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is protected by family and slaves alike.
The film is no less brutal than Tarantino’s recent Inglorious Basterds and he pulls no punches. In fact, the blood and gore is to such a ridiculous point that it is morbidly humorous. Candieland is horrible and Candie himself is both puppet and puppeteer. His right hand man is Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) who hates the fact that Django rides a horse as much as any white man would. Eventually guns are pulled and shots fired and the death toll becomes so impressive you would think it a battlefield.
The story is extreme and the circumstances follow suit. Broomhilda is probably the weakest character, and yet her terrified silence is the most realistic of the entire film. Each character is distinctly different and loud in its traits. Django has a steel and a smoldering anger that only Broomhilda can solve. Schultz is a chatty German who hates the KKK and doesn’t mind shooting a felon in front of his kid son. Each performance is a knockout, but it is certainly no surprise that Christoph waltzed (get it?) away with the Oscar.
This is one of the few films that DiCaprio has starred in where he is not the main character. His character is distinctly darker and more sinister than he usually plays. He participates in an underground fighting ring involving slaves fighting to the death. In order to get in his good graces, Django and Schultz put on an elaborate charade to convince Candie they want to buy one of his fighters, when in fact they only want to purchase Broomhilda.
Django Unchained is no picnic. While it is staged during the years of slavery, it was not created to make a statement about the practice. It is as much a character study as it is a comedy and a gruesome action film. Each plantation in the film is distinctly different from other films about slavery. On one planation, dozens of women stand about the house and their curious questions are bemusedly answered by their owner, while one poor girl is being whipped for dropping eggs. At Candieland you are placed naked in a steel “hot box” if you try to run away. Tarantino’s style gives the plantations a sheen that most films avoid. Slavery is certainly not presented as something positive, but its storyline is different in Django Unchained.
I could probably write a fourteen page essay on any Tarantino film, so I will summarize the rest of my opinions. All of its nominations are deserved. I am a little shocked that he won Best Original Screenplay, but not upset. The cinematography is a feast for the eyes, the costumes are either humorous or indistinct. The side plots and characters lend to the story well and although the run-time is a bit much (and the gruesome firefight is probably where the story gets unnecessarily lost and meandering), all in all it is a great film.
Please be aware that this film is 100% rated R and make your decisions accordingly, but what kind of Tarantino fan would I be if I did not recommend this nominated film? I suggest that you see it not because it is a historical film about slavery (because it is not), but because its characters, editing, story, and humor are all something unique out of Hollywood.