'Unchained' genius, Tarantino triumphs with action-packed film
Let’s begin this with the obvious: Django Unchained is a movie written and directed by the indomitable Quentin Tarantino. If you are somehow unfamiliar with his work, understand that QT goes big: big explosions, big beheadings and big actors. The bloodshed is generous and the gore is bountiful. And yet Tarantino’s latest venture is a study in revision, renovating a genre that cannot be defined by anything apart from simply ‘Tarantino.’
The film, now coming off its recent Golden Globe win for best original screenplay, tells the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave, who travels through the South with a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz). In the latter part of the film, the pair search for Django’s wife (Kerry Washington), sold previously to a plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). Django is unabashed American Western pulp, delighting in its own indifference toward convention. The film is also not shy in its appraisal of slave-owning America, throwing around slang and guns as though political correctness is a waste of time. And it works, as it always has for Tarantino.
In a similar vein, Django’s novelty lies in the brutally straightforward nature of its approach. There are no chronological jumps or confusing bits of extended dialogue. The film is raw, propelled action.
“The D is silent” — so goes one of the best lines in the film, as Django introduces himself. Our protagonist relies on the strength of the film’s witty script to carry the scenes, although the cast and excessive stylization are notably responsible in connecting a somewhat meandering plot. Foxx is convincing in his role, doing commendable service to an intricate script and granting further weight to his surprising Hollywood credentials. Samuel L. Jackson plays a grimy antagonist — in his own words, “the most hateful black man in all cinema!” — and is delicious. DiCaprio is all drawling Southern accent and sinister enunciation in a scene that may mark one of the most powerful performances of his career. All actors are in service of Tarantino’s engaging script, which dithers between superbly scandalous and guilelessly appropriate.
The film is funny and defiantly crude. It is the adverse companion to the somber storytelling of Lincoln, another popular slavery narrative to come out of 2012. Tarantino’s camera spends inordinate amounts of time focused on hands, flowers and blood, and you are often left wondering what went over your head. In this, it is typical Tarantino absurdity. But Foxx walks out in a blue suit from the late 1800s and rap music shows up on the score and an assortment of strings are tied together.
These are only some of the things that set this film apart from Tarantino’s oeuvre, because Django is pure storytelling. Its writer does not sacrifice that for anything, not even his own stylistic preferences. Yes, there are several political resonances, and yes, Tarantino only slightly deviates from his own conventions, but after a year of films that seemed to put art over story, Django at least remembers that it is a film. And so, we celebrate the director, not for simply his style or his aesthetic, but for his ability to reinvent stories, even his own.