Django Unchained – Film Review
REVIEWED BY CRITIC, FILM BUFF & BEER CONNOISSEUR F.P. BLUCK
11 am Hoyts for Django Unchained with a pretty blokey 30 or so viewers.
A new homewares ad and an appealingly funny one for being sane when one’s friends are drunk. A few previews – Hansel and Gretel: WItchhunters looks as stupid as one can imagine a film to be that is based on a revenge theme, an unlikely buddy pairing and dialogue a couple of centuries wrong. Then there was Zero Dark Thirty (dealing with Osama Bin Laden, for revenge) and, bizarrely, The Great Gatsby (Baz Luhrmann, anachronistic music, a spot of iconoclasm). Would we be seeing a movie that involved a good deal of revenge but also featured unlikely buddies and a spot of time-shifting in attitudes and speech?
Of course we were! All up something north of three hours of it.
The unlikely pairing is Schultz; a bounty hunter masquerading as a travelling dentist (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx); a slave whom he liberates from a chain gang being marched across some of the less hospitable bits of Texas in 1858. Schultz is German, so can get away with accented irony and a killer raised eyebrow. They seek out and kill some routine criminals for reward* and then set out to rescue Mrs. Broomhilda Django (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of crazy Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio**), his Uncle Tom of a butler, Stephen (Samuel L Jackson***) and a number of supporting actors. That’s pretty much it.
Stylish? Certainly, though some of the music was bizarre and the casual dialogue from the 1970s. The credits and the theme music were a genuflection to spaghetti westerns with a great deal of violence. Violence of every sort – considered, unconsidered, generic and personal – much of it in extreme and visceral detail****. There is lots of swearing and a great deal of (presumably accurate in 1858) use of a despicable term for black people. Did I mention the violence?
An Oz cameo towards the end by John Jarratt, and one by Tarantino using an accent that sounded like Dick van Dyke’s Mary Poppins cockney coached by a Korean who’s trying to sound South African. A genuinely hilarious intervention by a forerunner of the Ku Klux Klan. Oh, and the violence.
Did it mean anything apart from the obvious? The obvious being that slavery is a Very Bad Thing, an appalling infliction of indignity and the cruel subjection to the whims of another because of the happenstance of race. Not a contentious proposition. There’s an attempt to shoehorn meaning in by telling a truncated version of the German Brunnhilde story. I was looking for a more contemporary political message to go with the dialogue but couldn’t really see much to support it.
Four flat whites. I don’t think my stomach could keep a pastry down. And real blokes don’t do sweet stuff anyway.
* – Schultz takes a pragmatic view of the “wanted: dead or alive” concept. Dead men, presumably, challenge no warrants. Plus they don’t try to escape and they don’t need to be fed. They would, I suppose, start to smell after a day or so but most people stank in those days. Django just seems to like shooting white people and it’s a bonus to be paid.
** – This is a really weird role and Di Caprio plays it straight. Candie is simply an appalling human being of limited intellect and some beliefs that could be called eccentric.
*** – There are not many actors who could play Stephen and bring any subtlety to the role, but Jackson does so. Some of his lines were painful for an ageing liberal white person to hear.
**** – Yes, it’s over the top in quantity and its graphic depiction. Yes, it’s probably clever and ironic, Tarantino being one of the few cinematic geniuses. But, if someone does not view realistic depictions of pain, humiliation and violence with equanimity, it’s probably a film better avoided.