1. Django Unchained (R) - Runtime: 165 minutes
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
I don't think I realized how big a fan of Tarantino I was until I watched Inglourious Basterds. During that film, the whole time I was completely enthralled - the real world didn't exist and I was completely beholden to the story unfolding in front of me. And then I started to look back at his film career and there really hasn't been a misstep as far as directing goes (as for slapping his name on every awful, schlocky horror/action/martial arts movie, well...). And Django Unchained is no different - this is at times, a tough film to watch, but also very rewarding in both its joyful glee at revenge fantasy (much like Basterds) and its comic timing. It's definitely one of my favorite movies this year!
It's a simple revenge story - Django gets hired by a bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz, to take down some nasty outlaws in exchange for finding his wife, whom he was separated from at a slave auction. I thought the movie was going to be all about finding these outlaw brothers and Django and Schultz becoming buddies while taking out a bunch of racist slave owners. But the movie went in a completely different direction than I thought - Django and Schultz find the brothers quite quickly and take them out within the fist half hour of the movie. The rest of the movie is all about finding his wife and what happens when they do find her at Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie's residence, Candieland.
The movie is over two and half hours long, but not once did I feel it drag. Tarantino knows how to keep a movie going and every minute of this movie was fun and exciting! The movie does slow down a bit - but it's completely terrifying during the last half of the movie when they attempt to deceive Calvin Candie into selling Django's wife to them. DiCaprio puts on his best performance since The Departed. He's a completely demented slave owner and you're never too sure what he's capable of and it's truly horrific and intense. Playing the complete opposite of DiCaprio's deranged Candie, Christoph Waltz is the most charming and well-intentioned character in the film. Never once does he stray from his moral high ground, which is a complete surprise. He's the idealistic and romantic hero that we all wish were more prevalent during this troubling time in American history. Waltz and DiCaprio deserve at least some consideration for an Oscar - they're both the driving forces behind this movie, even more so than the lead character.
Which is quite interesting to read into - even though this is a revenge fantasy about slavery, even the lead black guy cannot overcome the power of white people in this movie. This has a lot to do with the performances more than the writing, so read into that what you want. Django does have his moments and in the end he is the last man standing and gets the last laugh. Jamie Foxx is Django and completely convincing as he progresses through being a submissive slave to owning his role as a free man.
I want to take a minute about the violence in the movie. Tarantino has been getting a lot of flak for the violence in his films and it all came to a head when he got blindsided by an NPR interview (read the synopsis here). It seems like more and more people are joining this chorus of criticism of our violent culture and how films and video games, while not being linked to violent behavior, somehow has numbed us to violence and glorified bloodshed and guns. I don't understand this - anyone who has watched Django and hasn't been disgusted at most of the violence portrayed in it. It's not an easy film to watch and the glorified shootout at the end is not exactly realistic and purely fantastical for a reason (much like the completely over-the-top shootout in Basterds). When someone boils down such a complicated issue to these talking points, it ruins the conversation and drives the focus away from the real issues.
Spoiler alert! I also found the ending to be something to think about - the last person Django kills in the end is Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson plays a very loyal butler who ends up telling Candie about Django and Schultz's nefarious plan. He's as much a villain as Candie (in a different way) and it's interesting to think about what this means in the grand scheme of things. A simple interpretation is that even slaves can become part of the problem. There's even a moment where Django talks about the most despised slaves are the black slave drivers and head house slave. I think it might be more complicated than that and I can't wait to delve into the movie again to tackle this issue. End of Spoilers!
If you don't mind uncomfortable violence and a lot of verbal abuse, than you'll love Django. It's a fun film and one of Tarantino's funniest for sure. I never once lost interest and that's a testament to great filmmaking. It's surely going to be one of the most talked-about movies this year and you're doing yourself an injustice by not seeing this movie. Wonderfully cast and exceptionally directed - this is a contender for best of the year!
Rating: See It!