‘Django’: A bloody re­venge fan­tasy

Bloody, over-the-top epic is ab­surd and long but hi­lar­i­ous, too.

Austin American-Statesman - - LIFE & ARTS - By Matthew Odam modam@states­man.com

Quentin Tarantino jumps back in his cin­e­matic time ma­chine and re­treats to the past to rewrite his­tory and ex­act some bloody re­venge in his over-the-top epic “Django Un­chained.”

Af­ter giv­ing Jewish sol­diers the chance to hunt down Nazis and kill Adolf Hitler in 2009’s “In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds,” Tarantino keeps his wish-ful­fill­ment state­side with a blax­ploita­tion-Spaghetti West­ern mash-up that takes its name from di­rec­tor Ser­gio Cor­bucci’s 1966 west­ern “Django.” Tarantino even trots orig­i­nal “Django” star Franco Nero out for a tongue-in-cheek cameo.

The film flies in the face of Hol­ly­wood con­ven­tions re­gard­ing the por­trayal of slav­ery, graph­i­cally de­pict­ing the bru­tal­ity of Amer­ica’s shame­ful past in har­row­ing de­tail. As he has done so of­ten in the past, Tarantino dis­arms the au­di­ence with hu­mor and hyp­no­tizes them with mes­mer­iz­ing di­a­logue be­fore launch­ing a full­frontal as­sault, as bul­lets fly and blood spat­ters across the screen in Pol­lock-es­que flour­ishes.

The un­hinged ex­plo­ration of the Old South features more uses of the “n” word than any movie in re­cent me­mory — more than 100 by some pub­lished ac­counts.

That ex­cess will lead to dis­com­fort with some au­di­ences but also hon­estly rep­re­sents the way in which slaves were treated as sub-hu­mans. The use of the word, which has got­ten Tarantino into trou­ble in the past, might seem ob­jec­tion­able to some, but the movie has found al­lies in pos­si­bly un­ex­pected places. The NAACP re­cently nom­i­nated the film and two of its stars for the group’s an­nual Im­age Awards.

One of those nom­i­nees is Jamie Foxx, who stars as a slave in 1858 who gets the chance to pun­ish his former masters and hero­ically save his beloved Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a life of enslave­ment. The key to Django’s sal­va­tion and re­demp­tion comes from the debonair Ger­man im­mi­grant Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter who poses as a den­tist.

Waltz earned an Os­car for his role in “In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds,” and I was fear­ful that Schultz might sim­ply be a reprisal. But he as­suaged any con­cerns of typecast­ing al­most im­me­di­ately. A dandy di­dac­tic with no qualms about killing, the gar­ru­lous mus­tache-twirler comes across Django and a group of slaves be­ing marched through the woods. He is search­ing for the Brit­tle brothers, former em­ploy­ees of Django’s pre­vi­ous master. In or­der to pro­cure Django’s help, he quickly dis­poses of Django’s cur­rent masters and lib­er­ates the group of slaves.

Schultz is an en­light­ened man, but he’s on a mis­sion de­ter­mined to “make this slav­ery malarkey” work to his ben­e­fit for the time be­ing. He and Django form a pact: If the slave will help him find the Brit­tle brothers, Schultz will help Django re­trieve his wife from a plan­ta­tion in Mis­sis­sippi.

Af­ter out­fit­ting Django in princely garb that echoes both Lit­tle Lord Fauntleroy and pro­topimp gear, the two set off on horse­back to the sound of Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name,” through prairies and snow­capped moun­tains as Schultz teaches Django the ways of the bounty hunter. The sight of a black man on horse­back serv­ing as side­kick and not slave draws un­wanted at­ten­tion and an­tag­o­nism, lead­ing to one of the most hi­lar­i­ous mo­ments of the film. A group of KKK mem­bers gather to trap the pair, but this gang that can’t shoot straight wres­tles with the sacks on their heads, un­able to align their eye-holes. It is a scene that will likely make Mel Brooks beam with pride.

Af­ter dis­patch­ing of the Brit­tles, the two ar­rive at Candy­land, the plan­ta­tion owned by ama­teur phre­nol­o­gist Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the man who owns Django’s wife. The would-be Fran­cophile who can’t speak French is a clas­sic Tarantino (and west­ern) men­ace, with his yel­lowed teeth, per­pet­ual cig­a­rette and wide-eyed vi­o­lent out­bursts. DiCaprio lets loose here, play­ing the part with frothy rel­ish. But the car­toon­ish na­ture of the scene comes to a star­tling halt as we watch the so­cio­pathic plan­ta­tion owner pre­side over sav­age fist­fights be­tween two mus­cle-bound Mandin­gos.

The se­quence is a great bait-and-switch, as the au­di­ence moves from chuck­ling at Candie’s ab­surd pres­ence to be­ing chas­tened by atroc­i­ties rarely seen in filmic slave nar­ra­tives.

Schultz and Django cre­ate a ruse to gain ac­cess to Candie’s es­tate so they can search for Broomhilda, with Django slowly tak­ing con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion and pos­ing as a fear­less slave-trader. As they get close to ab­scond­ing from Candy­land with Broomhilda, the pair’s plan falls apart thanks to the con­certed ef­forts of Candie’s African-Amer­i­can con­fi­dante, Stephen (Sa­muel L. Jack­son). In a role that winks at and then wipes any trace of the soft-shoe and smile af­fec­ta­tion from the stereo­type of sub­servient house-slave, Jack­son brings a dev­ileyed men­ace to Stephen. His di­a­bol­i­cal Un­cle Tom char­ac­ter be­comes the movie’s most ter­ri­fy­ing bad guy but also a char­ac­ter of bizarre sym- pa­thy, as one mar­vels at the per­ver­sity of slav­ery to turn a man against his own peo­ple.

With their ini­tial plan re­duced to ashes, Django re­groups him­self and sets out on a glo­ri­ous and grotesque ef­fort of re­tal­i­a­tion.

The se­quence features mas­sive amounts of blood but also an Old West saloon-style shootout campi­ness that man­ages to keep the vi­o­lence at a slight re­move.

Over the course of his quest, Foxx takes Django from a head-hung and near-de­feated mum­bling slave to a swag­ger­ing, quick-mouthed hero. It is an ab­surd, overly-long, un­set­tling and hi­lar­i­ous jour­ney which only Tarantino could be ca­pa­ble of mas­ter­mind­ing. Rat­ing: R for strong, graphic vi­o­lence through­out, a vi­cious fight, lan­guage and some nu­dity. Run­ning time: 2 hours, 45 min­utes. The­aters: Alamo Vil­lage, Barton Creek, Cine­mark Cedar Park, Cine­mark Stone Hill, City Lights, Gate­way, Galaxy Moviehouse, Flix Brew­house, Lake­line, Starplex, Tin­sel­town South, West­gate. Con­tact Matthew Odam at 912-5986. Twit­ter: @odam

’DJANGO UN­CHAINED’ GRADE: B+

UNI­VER­SAL PIC­TURES

Jamie Foxx stars in “Django Un­chained.”

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the de­spi­ca­ble owner of Django’s true love with a frothy rel­ish.

PHO­TOS Contributed by the We­in­stein CO.

Os­car win­ners Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx star in “Django Un­chained,”

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