Saturday, 24 January 2015

'Django Unchained' Review

The year is 1858. Django, a slave, finds himself being rescued from that life by Dr King Schultz, a bounty hunter. Schultz wants Django’s help to find some slavers who are wanted for murder. This partnership soon turns unto a friendship, with Dr King offering to help save Django’s wife from her life as a ‘Comfort Girl’. However the pair has not yet faced up to a man as devious as Calvin Candy, the owner of the Candyland plantation. Will they succeed in rescuing her or have the pair pushed their luck one score too many?

Now being a Quentin Tarantino film certain things are a given. The direction is great, the acting great, the music and visuals great. Even if you don’t like his films it is hard to criticise the level of quality Tarantino is capable of bringing to his worlds. That being said I did have a couple of small complaints with the script.

One problem I have is the slightly unbelievable character arcs during the film. I found it hard to accept that Django took to being a bounty hunter as quickly and proficiently as he did, a suggestion that he is “a natural” does very little to suddenly explain his perfect marksmanship. I’m not saying that we should have had a wacky training montage but there is a reason these types of sequences are so synonymous with skill development in films. A man who seems to have never fired a gun before, shooting another man directly in the heart on his first attempt doesn’t really work for me.

More problematic is the change, near the end, in the character of Dr Schultz. Throughout the movie we are shown how in control he is, how he makes decisions rationally. When he eventually snaps it seems completely out of character and it’s hardly foreshadowed at all. Now this sudden snap in itself would be fine if this tendency towards extremes had been established in any way before, but it wasn’t. I really can’t accept that the character who we spent a lot of time getting to know would have taken such an extremely out of character decision, particularly one which endangers his friends.

Both of these changes in character could have been easily covered with a few little moments. If we’d seen Django getting better at shooting and seen Dr Schultz gradually lose himself, all would have worked perfectly. It’s weird because we do get a scene of Django practising his reading, with the implication that he has had numerous lessons. Similarly we get the scene with Dr Schultz being horrified by the dog attack but it doesn’t seem to stay with him for the following scenes, not until it is plot convenient for it to push him over the edge.

This lack of believable character development is an issue I have with a lot of Tarantino films. He can create brilliant characters at point A and B but he can never really explain how they move from one point to another. Frequently he covers it up by using traumatic, ‘life changing’, moments or by avoiding character arcs all together, with characters having undergone all their personality changes before the films begin. I like the characters in Django and I like the world that they inhabit but I wish I liked it more, making the characters more believable would have done a lot to ground me further in the world.

One other criticism with this film would be that it feels a bit bottom heavy. The first third of the film is used to establish the bounty hunting and it is easily the most dynamic part of the film. I think more time could have been spent here to establish the characters and the world. Too much time is spent at Candyland, with too much focus being given to Calvin Candy. In any buddy cop drama it is important to spend as much time as you can with the leading pair, deviations to spend time with your villains doesn’t help this partnership.

One thing I was genuinely surprised by was how well Tarantino dealt with the topic of slavery. Although occasionally going for more ridiculous moments the script has a real feeling of grounded reality to it. The sequence with the KKK like hooded figures, arguing about the quality of their hoods adds a real sense of humanity to unlikable characters. There is always a sense that films such as this want to white-wash history and make the villains fundamentally evil in some unexplainable way. Slavery is shown to be what it was, an everyday piece of life for the time that the majority of people, including unfortunately some slaves, accepted as normal. It’s important to show history in this way, without making it seem like something that could never occur in the world we live in today.

So it goes without saying that Django Unchained is still a very strong film. I haven’t really gone into describing the good things about this film because generally speaking if I haven’t criticised a part of it, it’s good. Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx have genuine chemistry which carries the film through the odd slightly rougher patch. The action scenes are brutal and perfectly staged, showing that Tarantino has only gotten better at directing as time has passed. It’s a testament to how well Django Unchained works as a film that it has spurred my attention considerably for ‘The Hateful Eight’.


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