Friday, December 28, 2012

Django Rising

When you leave the theater after watching a Quentin Tarantino movie, you feel exhilarated, you feel exhausted, and you begin thinking about the "moments" that every Tarantino film seems to have.  Moments like the opening scene in "Inglorious Basterds," and the basement tavern scene from the same movie.  The first "Kill Bill" movie?  Comprised almost entirely of such moments.  I could go on, but you get the point.

"Django Unchained" has moments like that - the dinner scene at "Candie-land" comes to mind - but more than other Tarantino films, "Django" tells a story, one with a beginning, middle and end.  The story is right there at the top of the poster to the left - "life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance."  Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who is liberated by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist turned bounty hunter who initially takes on Django because he needs him to identify his next targets, but then quickly realizes that Django has a talent for bounty hunting.  The good doctor makes Django an offer he can't refuse - work with him through the cold winter, and in the spring, they'll seek Django's wife, and liberate her.

Eventually, the two end up at the plantation of one Calvin Candie, certainly one of the most evil, least likable characters ever committed to film.  With this role, Leonardo DiCaprio erases the last vestiges of his  "Titanic" legacy - essentially, the character represents everything that was evil and abhorrent about slavery, and DiCaprio pulls it off with aplomb.  Spike Lee is already on record that he won't see the movie because he believes it to be disrespectful of his ancestors.  I don't really feel qualified to comment on that, except to say that it strikes me as a bit strange to reach that conclusion without having seen the work in question.  There's certainly nothing about the movie that tries to portray slavery as anything but abhorrent, despicable and inhuman.  If anything, Tarantino takes it a notch too far, with as much extreme violence as I've ever seen in one of his movies.  Yes, there is probably less blood in "Django" than in the "88 keys" scene in "Kill Bill," but the violence in this movie feels real, whereas in the earlier film it felt like you were reading a comic book.

As he seems to be in everything that he's in, Christoph Waltz is amazing, and Jamie Foxx is very strong in the title role.  I've read criticism that he plays it too understated, but it seems obvious that he's doing his own take on "the man with no name" made famous by Clint Eastwood, and when you consider the role in those terms, it makes perfect sense.  There's also room in the movie for a veritable Who's Who of veteran character actors, including Walton Goggins, Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, and many others.

It's too early to tell whether "Django" resides at the top of the Tarantino pantheon, but there certainly isn't a dull moment in it.

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