Django Unchained

Django Unchained ★★★★★

Film #92 of The December Project

Quentin Tarantino, the master of his own genre, has written and directed the most painful, racist, hateful, brutal, wonderful, and entertaining film of the year. Django is a slave who has recently been brutalized and separated from his wife for attempting to run away. When Dr. Shultz, a German dentist turned bounty hunter, needs his assistance to collect his bounty by killing the Brittle brothers, Django becomes a free man and enters into the bounty hunting business with him. His one goal is to rescue his wife Broomhilda from a brutal slave owner in Mississippi. I feel like Django Unchained kind of ignores the three act structure we're so used to seeing in films and actually manages to cram three reasonably self-contained stories into one overarching narrative and commentary. It's an incredible feat of storytelling and is ridiculously entertaining despite some problematic aspects.

As someone who has been called the n-word to my face by white people before, I found the gratuitous use of the word in this film almost intolerable. Every time I hear it, whether in this film or not, it's like being stabbed. No matter how many times I hear it going forward, I will never be desensitized to it. Quentin Tarantino has used it in a lot of his films, but never to this extent and I think the film suffers a bit for it. There are times when it is used for absolutely no reason, and it doesn't even sound natural coming from some of the characters who use it. I don't think this film would've been complete without the horrible word, but it's way overused and overplayed.

My other big problem with the film is that most of the black characters, even the titular character, aren't nearly as well developed as the villains. Kerry Washington has to endure some extremely degrading torture and language. She's said in interviews that she had to go to some dark places to play Broomhilda and was in therapy throughout the 9 months of filming and beyond. For all of that effort she had to put forth, she should've been given more screen time and a more fleshed-out character. Django is a great and mysterious anti-hero , which is how a lot of westerns are (especially "The Man with No Name" trilogy), but I couldn't help feeling that we only get to know his actions and don't get to know him as a man. It just feels really unbalanced compared to the extremely well-developed white characters and the one despicable black character.

There are three standout performances bolstered by superior writing and character development. The first is Leonardo DiCaprio as the vile, pretentious, hilarious, and psychotic Monsieur Candy. His plantation is called Candyland, which is ironic for so many reasons I won't even go into it. His character's actions inform some of the most horrific and disgusting imagery of the film, from a scene of a runaway slave being ripped apart by dogs at his order to a fighter forced to gauge the eye out and bash in the head of his opponent with a hammer. These two scenes do not sensationalize the violence, but instead give two examples of why slavery had to end and why this man deserved to die. His monologue at the dinner table is one of the most riveting and intense pieces of acting I've seen from him. He pushed himself to an extremely dark place for this role. I hope it's a turning point and he continues to challenge himself.

Samuel L. motherfucking Jackson. By god, that man can act! He basically plays two characters in one, which must've been difficult because both were contemptible and terrifying in every way possible. One of them is basically a carbon copy of Uncle Ruckus from The Boondocks, in terms of his looks, his racism against other black people, and his backstabbing antics. He's a joy to watch in the most uncomfortable way. As a villain, he's a fun surprise and the ending wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without his performance.

The other incredible performance is from Cristoph Waltz, the man all of us became enamored with after his mind-blowing performance in Inglourious Basterds. He's now proven he can handle any dialogue Tarantino throws at him, even in that nasally and almost grating accent of his. Dr. Shultz's final decision makes total sense in Waltz's capable hands, whereas I can see a lot of other actors mucking that scene up.

When the violence in this film is on the more comic side, it's because blood is squirting and exploding out of people, a guy literally flies through the air after being hit by a bullet, or it's just really unexpected. This might be the bloodiest Tarantino film yet, which is really saying something. The editing is a bit erratic and there are some scenes that go on and on and on, much like Inglourious Basterds at times. The overwhelming brilliance and energy of this film is impossible to escape, even when there are some questionable choices and a few flaws. One of Tarantino's finest achievements, Django Unchained is at once the most difficult to watch and one of the best cinematic experiences of 2012.

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