Film Review: Subject matter may hinder audacious ‘Django’

Film Review: Subject matter may hinder audacious ‘Django’
Jamie Foxx as Django plays a freed slave seeking to rescue his wife from Leonard DiCaprio’s plantation owner Calvin Candie in Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” Photo by Andrew Cooper

It isn’t quite the Tarantino masterpiece as it ought to be, but an audacious style — marked by a striking combination of violence and humor — keeps “Django Unchained” on its feet and ready to fascinate audiences eager to see what the one-of-a-kind filmmaker has accomplished. 

Quentin Tarantino is certainly an interesting filmmaker who, for a long time, has had my curiosity. But with his newest directorial project, the excitement of seeing “Django Unchained” did not go as rewarded as hoped. Still, I can’t bring myself to say the film isn’t one of the year’s best.

Set in the Deep South two years before the Civil War, Django (Jamie Foxx) is sold into slavery and torn from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). After Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a dentist-turned bounty hunter rescues him from captivity, the pair teams up to hunt down a trio of criminals whose faces only Django has seen before. In exchange, Schultz promises to help rescue Django’s wife, who was lost and later found to be at “Candyland,” a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

So how is “Django Unchained” not the masterpiece I was hoping for?

Anyone who has seen Tarantino’s work should know well enough that he has a penchant for manipulating the rules of storytelling while maintaining a sense of fluidity.

Unfortunately, those who do know this will be displeased to hear that the two different storylines — hunting the Brittle Brothers and rescuing Broomhilda from Candyland — don’t mesh together well enough.

I sensed there was potential to establish a sense of unity, but sadly, that potential remains unrealized. If you’re a Tarantino fan, there’s a possibility you’ll be turned off by this glaring development. It’s almost as if the film feels incomplete.

Despite these flaws, “Django Unchained” cannot be considered a failure.

I commend Tarantino for tackling the issue of slavery in America. The film, I think, poses this question of: Why didn’t people see slavery as an immoral and inhumane practice?

But in what is a staple in nearly all of Tarantino’s films, his style (repulsive yet enthralling violence, sharp dialogue, genre hybridity, and dramatic tonal shifts) adds a humor to what in every other condition would not be.

For every act of graphic violence committed by characters on either side of the question, there is always humor to draw attention to the story’s satirical aspect. What Candie does to his slaves, along with what Django and Schultz do to their targets, is not supposed to be funny. Yet, somehow, Tarantino’s hand continues to infuse the appalling with the hilarious,

In terms of casting, “Django Unchained” rightfully belongs to Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz. The poignant complexity Foxx brings to his character fuels his desire for vengeance against any pro-slavery person he comes across. As for Waltz, he imbues Schultz with a perfect balance of playful professionalism and warm solidarity.

The other cast members are a mixed bag, at best. Leonardo DiCaprio seems to be holding back in conveying the full extent of Candie’s charismatic yet brutish personality. Tarantino veteran Samuel L. Jackson, however, feels right at home.

There’s no such thing as a “bad movie” when it comes to Tarantino. But as much as I liked “Django Unchained,” I didn’t love it in the way I did “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds.”

 

MPAA rating: R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity.

Running time: 2 hours 46 minutes

Playing: General release

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