Oscar Winnners in Review – Django Unchained
Let’s start with this – Quentin Tarantino is a self-aggrandising, controversial and loud-mouthed movie nerd who pisses off as many people as he makes fans. He’s also a genuine genius and I don’t think he’s made a bad film in his life. He’s a cultural powerhouse, a real-life cinema auteur and one of the few film-makers whose new films are treated as both commercial and critical events. The common wisdom was that the man went off the boil in later years and only found his way back with ‘Inglorious Basterds’ but I’m one those who never lost faith in his ability to produce smart, exciting entertainment.
So, last year he released his latest piece, the bloody funny ‘Django Unchained.’ As with most of Tarantino’s films it’s yet another piece where he gets to show off his ability as a cinematic DJ, someone who can mix together genre, style and influences and create something genuinely unexpected. Here, what should ostensibly be a relative straight-forward historical drama in Tarantino’s hands a Grand Guignol style, spaghetti Western with gunfights, gratuitously racist language and hyper-violence.
So, as per usual I’ll attempt to give a brief outline without spoiling the magnificently fun plot. The action follows the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who is bloodily emancipated by the German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz. The unlikely duo then team up in order to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda who is held captive by the horrifyingly racist Calvin J. Candie.
As befits someone with QT’s reputation the cast is all genuinely fantastic though the stand-out is probably Christoph Waltz who after his Oscar winning turn in both this and ‘Inglorious…’ is seemingly turning into Tarantino’s latest muse. His Dr Schultz is a wonderfully portrayed creation; violent and quite happy to exploit the slavery system but also pragmatically invested in helping Django. He bounces incredibly well of the slightly more stoic Django. The two central characters form the crux of the story and Jamie Foxx plays Django with a subtlety that balance the slight more hyper Waltz. As with other Tarantino film’s some of the best characters are those who only appear briefly and here Samuel L Jackson is probably the best playing the racist Uncle Tom style stooge, Stephen, of the villainous Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio).
So, the main point of any review – Is it any good, and more importantly, did it deserve to win at the Oscars? Good? No. Tarantino doesn’t do good, rather he does films like this; it’s big, brash, offensive and utterly exhilarating to watch. Yes, before going on any further let me sort out something I may have been dancing around. This is a great movie. It’s also one that to many people will be deeply, deeply offensive. Because of…language…Yup, I’m talking about the ‘n word.’ It’s used. A lot. In contexts that might well be historically accurate but will also be hard for a big portion of the audience to listen to. When you add to that the concerns articulated by people like Spike Lee, who said that slavery wasn’t a Western, it was a Holocaust. As a result, it wouldn’t be right for me to talk about this film without pointing that there are several important reasons why this is what critics like to, somewhat euphemistically, call ‘problematic.’
However, that doesn’t stop this being a great movie. The director himself said that he wanted to make a film about the serious issues of American history but without making an ‘issues movie’ but rather he wanted to make a genre movie that included all of the dark things in American history that have never been dealt with because ‘Americans were ashamed of them.’
Whether he succeeded or not is probably answered in the slew of debate and occasionally stoked controversy around the film. It became the highest grossing film of his career and it managed to make talking about America racial history something that could (and had) to happen precisely because there was a big, violent piece of cinema doing just that.
It won deserved acclaim for its energy, humour and occasional brutality and Quentin kept his streak of being notorious when he accepted his writing Oscar he claimed this year was the ‘year of the writer’ as a way of getting back for not getting the nod for direction. Like Tarantino himself it’s a film you just can’t ignore, whether it’s the Academy or the box office people had to pay attention to it. Art that’s impossible to ignore or silence will always gain plaudits. I could have touched on much more than I have in trying to review this but really the best place to finish is here – go watch it yourselves and make up your own mind.