It takes two (extra hours) to Django
Dear Hollywood, when we said ‘overstuffed’, we were talking about our stomachs during holiday feasts, not movies.
Yes, your bottoms will be sore after you traverse the long and winding road alongside freed slave Django in Quentin Tarantino’s latest macabre smorgasbord, Django Unchained. Movies verging on three hours in length are the trend of the 2012 holiday season, it would seem. But when the film is as delightfully unhinged and as resiliently bizarre as Django is, shouldn’t the few pounds of extra fat be as welcome as they were Christmas evening?
Audiences could argue the film succumbs to its own insanity somewhere within its final twenty minutes, as the track the script seems to be taking swerves along an unpredictably divergent path. Yet at the same time you can practically hear Tarantino jumping up and down with excitement when the film proverbially sheds its shackles and jumps from ‘contained quirkiness’ to ‘chaotic mumbo jumbo.’ When Tarantino finally unchains himself in both the screenwriter’s desk and the director’s chair, the results are eccentric and unordinary, but that’s the movie’s entire point.
Meet Django. The slave turned free man (played by Jamie Foxx) agrees to help his savior Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz), a bounty hunter, track down three wanted men from Django’s past for a hefty sum. Schultz teaches Django to become a bounty hunter and a free man himself.
The deadly intelligent pair arrive at a plantation named Candyland to rescue Django’s beloved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whose knowledge of German makes her a prized treasure to plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Candyland reeks of racism and cigars, and Django must convince Candie and everyone else on the plantation he despises his own race more than they do in order to gain their trust.
Perhaps the best thing about the film is the chemistry between Tarantino and the actors, and between the actors themselves. DiCaprio revels in the opportunity to play boisterously rotten Candie, a role worthy of the two acclaimed names (he and Tarantino) who collaborated to create it. Candie’s malevolence is rivaled by that of his trusty butler Stephen (Samuel L Jackson). Jackson could easily go the entire movie unrecognized as the ferociously racist and hypocritical slave.
Meanwhile Waltz steals the beginning of the movie as the bounty hunter (and engaging conversationalist) with an intelligence sharp as a sawtooth, and maybe stained with a little blood. Sly Foxx conveys the growth of Django excellently, bouncing off of Waltz and Tarantino’s outlandishness while remaining grounded as a very real and pain-stricken slave.
Rather than polishing the final product to perfection, Tarantino preferred to throw it in the dirt and mix it up again, to reliably satisfying results. The highly stylized half-western, half-something else genre movie contained an unconventional mix of music. A song that sounded like it came from a 1960s Nashville record being spun on a scratchy player is followed minutes later by a contemporary rap anthem. Perhaps more surprising is how good they sound together.
The movie also relies on an unexpected large amount of humor, most of which is created with Tarantino’s campy camera tricks and strange situations in the script. Humor doesn’t necessarily mix with violence, but in Django’s case, it does. Violence works differently in Candyland than it does anywhere else. For instance, maybe I’m just ignorant because I’ve never participated in a shoot off (weird because I live in Philly), but do people actually… pop? Audiences are left with the feeling that everything that happens during the movie – every death, conversation, explosion, head tilt, and innocent glance – is an elaborate joke set up by Tarantino. Just because he can.
Though I would have appreciated if the film’s length had released audiences a little earlier, it is a convincing portrayal of the times of slavery without trying or meaning to be. Perhaps the movie should have been titled Tarantino Unchained to provide a more accurate description of what audiences are about to see.
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