Sunday, January 6, 2013

‘Django Unchained’

Review by James Colt Harrison 

“Over the top” is a phrase that was invented for show business productions or players which went beyond the normal range of acceptable dramatic situations. John Barrymore comes to mind as one of the great “hams” of filmdom, (his granddaughter Drew Barrymore has escaped that appellation) as does ghoulish Bela Lugosi in his iconic Dracula movies. Fifties film maker Ed Wood might also be considered for this dubious accolade. A few of Alfred Hitchcock’s scarier epics can also fall into this category. In modern times the only man who definitely fits this description is director Quentin Tarantino.  

Mr. Tarantino has directed his new southern Western Django Unchained  to be not only over-the-top but beyond  it . However, it is all in fun---or what passes as Tarantino fun---and many scenes are quite funny and have hilarious dialogue. Yes, the man writes as well as directs, and in this film he even plays a small part himself which sort of blows up in his face after a fashion. 

The well-liked actor Jamie Foxx plays a former slave who is bought and freed by German-born traveling dentist Dr. King Schultz (Oscar® winner Christolph Waltz). He has plans for Jamie’s character Django. Schultz makes a good living as a bounty hunter, and he figures Django can help him find the notorious Brittle brothers who have a price on their heads. Django used to work for them and has lost no love over the vicious men who physically beat him on the plantation. Django joins up with Schultz in hopes of also finding his wife (Kerry Washington), who was sold to plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  

Tarantino throws in a lot of action, horse running, fights, Ku Klux Klan lynchings (in a hilarious sequence in which their hoods are poorly made and the Klansmen can’t see out of them), Mandingo fights to the death, and more gunfights than in ten westerns. It’s almost mandatory a Tarantino film have more blood on the screen than does a Chicago slaughterhouse. A bad guy can’t just have his arm shot; the arm has to be viciously severed in half and the blood is guaranteed to be splattered all over the plantation mansion walls. The beautiful ante- bellum home is in need of heavy repainting when these scenes are repeated with every shoot-out. But they are so outrageous they become funny or silly. 

There are two great performances in the film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Christolph Waltz brighten the screen whenever they appear. Waltz, who won a 2009 Best Supporting actor Oscar® for his role as the charmingly vicious Nazi officer in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, should certainly be in contention for that same category this year. His Schultz character enlivens every scene he plays, and the film more or less falls flat when he is not in the picture, so vibrant is his performance. Special mention must also be made for DiCaprio’s non-lead part as plantation owner Candie. He also can be charming, but he’s in the business of buying and selling slaves. It’s no laughing matter to him. DiCaprio obviously relishes his mean, shrewd character who always wants to come out on top. It’s a part most actors would envy, and DiCaprio gives it his all. He is brilliant. 

Old Hollywood has always intrigued Tarantino and, as such, he pays tribute to it by using veteran actors Bruce Dern, Russ Tamblyn, Don Johnson (as Big Daddy), James Remar and youngster Jonah Hill in star cameos. Franco Nero, who starred in the original 1966 Django is also in for a nostalgic nod. 

The film is for sophisticated film buffs who can relate to all the classic Hollywood references. Full of action, laughs, sparkling dialogue (mostly from Waltz), and outrageous situations, the film is a fun, 165 minutes of mayhem, bumbling Klan members, cunning shrewdness, and a lot of enjoyment. It has put the “entertain” back into entertainment. The Weinstein Company.



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