Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Meal for the Senses — Django Unchained

Nothing less than a modern opera, Django Unchained is a towering work of art, a true 21st-century Western, creating a legendary character for our era.

DEMAND ON VIEWER: Moderate to high, for violence and length
OVERALL:  Recommended

This film is a work of art and a real contribution to the art form that is film. It combines carefully placed, stunning visuals with exceptional aural sound experience. This is typical for Tarantino, but what is unusual here is the way he applies this to the genre of Western, and combines it with the creation of an epic character.

From the opening credits, a well-selected and operatic soundtrack helps set the theatrical backdrop for this latest of Tarantino's universes. He has a knack for selecting just the right tune: "Django" accompanies the gang of slaves at the beginning, and "Moving Me Down the Highway" by Jim Croce accompanies, not a highway, but a snow-clad vista shot in the mountains of Wyoming. The music is perfect for the mood of the film: "and I'm gonna go there free."

DiCaprio puts in a fine-tuned, entertaining performance; his flair and timing are drawn out by Tarantino in way I haven't seen before.

Foxx is magnetic mostly because of his costume. In its own right a very worthy art form.

Samuel Jackson is once again at his rhythmically  intoned best as the aged butler who tries to keep Django down, reminding us that sometimes your worst enemies are from your own camp. This film, like Pulp Fiction, will be worth watching over and over just to enjoy Jackson's humorous and witty dialogues.

The most intriguing performance is turned in by Christopher Waltz. His beautiful German accent—a tonic to the rough southern drawls—is a nod to diversity, that with the coming of global diversity comes more freedom.

Waltz' character, Dr. King Schultz, is a great choice for a name, because he gives Django his chance at a dream, at freedom. Even though King is a mercenary, he carries enlightenment-age ideals with him and seems to want to promote a more rational way of life. Unfortunately for the film, and for Tarantino, Schultz is not allowed to carry his higher self through to the end. "I'm sorry, I just couldn't help it," he says, after giving in to violence one last fatal time. Is this Tarantino speaking a confession?

One gets the feeling of catharsis in this film. Racial catharsis, of finally arriving at a time when those without power suddenly have it before them, and take it lustily. But is this the way we really want things to be? The bloodletting and gun-firing is perhaps a staple of westerns, and certainly of Tarantino, but one wishes there weren't quite so many bullets. The story would have still had its magic without being an advertisement for the NRA.

THIS IS A FUNNY, very entertaining, exceptionally dramatic film. If art is meant to take us someplace else, someplace we won't forget, Django hits the mark. At the same time it will provoke discussion simply because of its full-frontal assault on white supremacy (the scene with the bags over the heads of the KKK deserves special mention for its Tarantino-esque black humor - watch it for a good laugh). See this film, it will leave you a bit breathless, but it will also enrich you with a full meal for the senses.

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