Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Django Unchained: A Review

Film: Django Unchained
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cinema Viewing: January 2013
Reviewer: Adura Ojo
Star Rating: ****

So...I've decided to review films that are relevant to the theme of this blog. I'll do this every once in a while or as my time and schedule permits. I can't think of a better way to start off the series than Django Unchained.

I'd  heard so much about Django in the media as well as online. So I go to see it. Let's just say I am not disappointed and this is why. It tackles a difficult subject: Slavery. We know Hollywood is always nervous about slavery and its portrayal. Tarantino pulls Django off as director and screen writer. He acts in the film too. Jamie Foxx plays the lead character Django (As Django says, the D is silent). I cannot think of any other actor who could play it better. The swagger, the array of skills required for this particular role. Django is a slave transported along with other slaves by their owners in 1858 when they come across a bounty hunter and former dentist: Dr Schultz -  brilliantly played by Christopher Waltz. Schultz's wit; now that is inbred, not bought with an education. Django is chosen by Schultz who needs him to help find some criminals - a particularly notorious set of brothers with a price on their heads. Django in the meantime learns all the necessary skills for a bounty hunter. It is interesting to see how Whites and other Blacks respond to  him - A Black man on a horse; a pretty rare sight in those days. Django has a quest of his own - to find his beloved wife and fellow slave Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The search takes both Django and Schultz to Candie's estate. Leonardo Di Caprio is also brilliantly cast as Calvin Candie.

Samuel L Jackson is hard to ignore in the role of Stephen (Candie's head servant). He is virtually unrecognisable which is the mark of an actor who is ace at this craft. Stephen is possibly the Black person's worst nightmare of an Uncle Tom character times 10. In the end he gets what he deserves. Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) does not have much to say but she has an undeniable presence in all the scenes she is in, again evidence of some good acting skills.

The power of the film lies in Tarantino's ability to manage the anger, the sadness, the laughter. I find myself angry, crying and laughing at different times throughout the film. The tears flow freely as soon as I see the slaves in chains in the opening scene. It would not be a Tarantino movie without the violence. Blood and guts spill freely as it would in a Tarantino movie. I am in two minds as to whether the violence is over the top. Two scenes stick in my mind. It seems to me that one of the scenes is definitely necessary to show how inhuman slavery is and how savage the slavers actually are. This is the 'hammer and fists' fight scene that takes place in Calvin Candie's house. It stands out in my mind as pretty brutal. The 'hammer and fists' scene tells a lot about Calvin Candie and the mind of men like him. The beauty is in the irony - that Candie believes he is a more refined human being than the so called unintelligent brains he has for slaves. Yet he has an insatiable need to force his slaves into the most mindless savagery for his own entertainment.

The second scene I find uncomfortable is an incident involving a dog...lets just say the dog is let loose. Django is a sort of catalyst in the dog scenario - This seems at odds with Django's 'real' character. Though admittedly he was playing the part of a Black slave trader in order to fool Candie; I do wonder if the dog scene should have been left on the cutting room floor. That Django would go that far is unconvincing. The length of the film itself is perhaps a bit long, at least fifteen minutes too long. Some momentum is lost in the aftermath following the shootout on Candie's farm as the plot runs out of steam.

As for the 'N' word, it is uttered so many times one loses count. I am not sure what people expect to hear of that time and age but it seems pretty realistic to me. Slavery was a grim reality in 1858. The 'N' word is a part of that era that haunts us still. I can understand that it feels uncomfortable to hear it but a story has to be told the way it is...the way it was. I am pleased that Tarantino does not spare our discomfort - We need to see and hear for ourselves to see how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Django Unchained is a great film with an important story well told with an excellent cast of actors.

I give Django Unchained Four stars **** (Out of a possible 5).

Reviewer: Adura Ojo - All Rights Reserved

I've decided to rate films. Would you like me to rate books as well? Let me know. And if you've watched Django, kindly share your thoughts. I'm looking for guest writers for this blog - if you're interested in posting a review or a writer's feature, email me. Address on top of blog. Thanks:)

images: wikipedia commons