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January 24, 2013

Django Unchained: Free to Be Something Special?

Thursday, January 24, 2013 — The first thing which must be stated is the fact that “Django Unchained” is a Quentin Tarantino movie. If you do not understand what that means, you probably should avoid the film. If language and blood make you uncomfortable, you should definitely avoid the film. If you choose to do otherwise, you have been warned.  

As I have stated on multiple occasions, often times in these reviews, I would prefer that everyone in films talk like proper gentlemen and ladies; and I have seen enough violence to last me a lifetime. However, I refuse to limit my theater experience to only those films that stay within the boundaries I set. “Django” does not push those boundaries; the film knocks them down and keeps on going.

I liked the film a lot. For a number of reasons. First, the film shines a light of disgrace upon all forms of racism, institutional or personal. Our nation has been plagued with racism since her birth, and Tarantino does not shy away this travesty of our history, but he also mocks it with humor that is both hilarious and poignant simultaneously. I especially enjoyed the scene with an early Klan-like group plotting a raid. There is no place left in our nation for bigotry and Tarantino is calling out anyone who still believes in racial superiority.

Second, I liked the film for the wonderful performances. Christoph Waltz has already won one Oscar under Tarantino’s direction, and he could be headed for another. He and Leonardo Dicaprio, who also delivers one of the best performances of his career, have both been singled out as potential best supporting actor nominees. It is difficult for any film to have three nominees in one category, but I would add Samuel L. Jackson to the short list for Supporting Actor. All three of these are brilliant. But it is Jamie Foxx who is the heart and soul of the film. He is not generating Awards buzz but playing the title character, a freed slave yearning to be reunited with his true love, he is as good as he has ever been. And that includes his Oscar winning portrayal in Ray.

Then there is the story and dialogue. One may find fault with Tarantino, but one criticism you can never level at him is that his screenplays are boring. This is a passionate story told well, with great twists, big laughs and heavy drama and suspense. However, as good as the story is, it is the dialogue that hums along, always sounding natural, authentic and almost poetic. There are grand action sequences that fill the screen, but in the smaller moments, when the characters are chatting, that is often when the film soars to the greatest heights.

And finally, there are the production values. Tarantino has reached the point in his career that he can write and do basically whatever he wants. He has chosen with his last two films to make big historical dramas. Costuming, sets and art direction, make-up all set the tone and create the world of the film. All this work is top notch, as one would expect. But there other touches which set the film apart. Tarantino uses music in ways few directors would envision. Several songs, not originally written for the film, are used to set scenes. The opening credits design is a unique choice which is perfect. Ultimately, as much as one expects violence and bad language with Tarantino, I think one familiar with the director’s work, also anticipates a balance of top quality ingredients, which are the recipe for a unique film experience.

Shortly after seeing the film, someone asked me if I thought it was one of the best of 2012. I was still reflecting of the film and gave a vague answer. After a week of reflection, I have concluded “Django Unchained” is a film you could watch again and again; that’s the kind of film that makes my Top Ten List, a movie free to be something special.

 

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