Wednesday, January 23, 2013
DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
In 2003 writer/director Quentin Tarantino released the first of his two KILL BILL volumes and began his cinematic preoccupation with violent revenge. He continued down this road with the “Death Proof” segment of GRINDHOUSE and the muddled World War II fantasia, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. Now Tarantino’s fascination culminates in this enormously entertaining, blood-soaked western set in the antebellum South. Bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) executes rough justice for the courts, gunning down wanted men and hauling back the corpses for cash. In his search for three outlaw brothers Schultz enlists (and frees) slave Django (Jamie Foxx), who knows them by sight. An expert marksman, Django proves a natural for the bounty hunting business, so Schultz hires him for the winter. After the thaw he agrees to help Django locate and rescue his beloved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who had been sold after a failed escape attempt. The trail leads to Candyland, a plantation owned by ruthless Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Schultz must fashion an elaborate ruse so he and Django can gain access. Ornately constructed dialogue and sudden violence are Tarantino trademarks, and here he codes his carnage to elicit varying responses. He films violent acts directed at oppressed black slaves with realism, causing viewers to recoil from the screen. When white oppressors meet their ignominious ends, however, the deaths are accompanied by cartoonish gouts of blood, undermining the horror and inviting viewer amusement instead. But Tarantino’s racial politics are not cut-and-dried, as evidenced by Candie’s house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a malignant Uncle Tom who sells out his race for power and comfort, and becomes the film’s most complex villain. Waltz captivates as the amoral but enlightened Schultz, while DiCaprio clearly relishes his diabolical turn and scores his finest performance in two decades. Thanks to Foxx’s solid, centering presence, the film keeps in sight the operatic love stories at its sanguine heart: that of Django and Broomhilda, and that of Tarantino and the movies.