Django Unchained is a film about a black slave (Jamie Foxx) being freed by a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), and them working together to earn enough money to buy the freedom of Django’s wife, Broomhilda, from slimeball plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). It’s my first real foray into the world of Quentin Tarantino films (apart from True Romance, but I don’t really count that because he sold it and I’ve never seen it all the way through anyway), so I was a little apprehensive. It looked like it had a good storyline, but I’m extremely squeamish and so not really a fan of unnecessary gore and violence, which doesn’t exactly bode well considering the number of Tarantino films I’ll have to sit through to complete my Culture Mission. I was intrigued to see how the portrayal of a grim topic like slavery could work in a Western format though, and I was rather pleasantly surprised.
I really liked the character of Django. He’s so smooth and so cool, but it was a bit uncomfortable how, as a freedman pretending to be an advisor on ‘mandingo fighters’, he was almost acting like a slave owner himself, and treating the slaves the same way as the white slave owners did, even though he had been in their position and knew their suffering. I know it was all an act for bounty hunter Django’s fake character as a mandingo expert, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson’s character posed the same kind of problems for me, as he seemed to take far too much pleasure out of punishing slaves and viewed himself more as part of the white slave-owning family. The film’s been quite controversial for reasons like this, as there are some who say it’s purely a white man’s idea of slavery and that it’s insensitive. I’m not really a fan of reading too much into films, I’d prefer to see them just as a form of entertainment without any moral messages, but a film about slavery is always going to be controversial because the topic itself is so controversial and so, no matter how it is portrayed or by whom, there will always be people who find it to be an inappropriate topic for ‘entertainment’ purposes.
Focusing on the entertainment aspect of the film, it was actually a lot funnier than I was expecting. There were some witty smirk-inducing lines thrown in here and there, but the scene with the KKK (well, the forerunners of the KKK), was pretty hilarious, and there were definitely a few audience members in raucous stitches. In a way it’s pretty brave to make such a mockery of the KKK because, let’s face it, their existence and their despicable principles are no laughing matter. It worked really well though, and the cinema audience I was sat with certainly appreciated it.
The soundtrack was fabulous and really fitting, with a mix of contemporary and traditionally ‘Western’ style music. It really highlighted that this is a Western, but done in a new way. Even the funny little rap written by Jamie Foxx seemed appropriate (although I’ve always hated rap, in my view there’s a definite reason why ‘rap’ is in ‘crap’). It also included music by Ennio Morricone, who wrote the music for huge Westerns like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which really helped to make it feel like a legitimate Western with a good level of drama. All in all, thumbs up for the soundtrack, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the CD.
There was, of course, an awful lot of blood and gore, but it was so obviously fake that I didn’t feel at all squeamish and instead found it rather laughable. The fight scenes were pretty long though, and were fairly predictable from what I’ve heard of Tarantino films (i.e. absolutely everyone in the vicinity gets shot in one way or another, and there’s a fountain of fake blood). Actually, the film in general was really very long, perhaps unnecessarily so, and could probably have been made a better length purely by halving the length of the shootouts. Although I suppose that’s what people expect to see if they’re watching a Tarantino film. It didn’t drag as such, but it really was very long and could have been ended sooner.
All in all I rather enjoyed my first Tarantino experience, apart from one little thing, and that little thing was Quentin Tarantino himself. I know he likes to give himself cameos in all of his films, but that really was the worst-acted cameo I have ever seen and was all a bit too in-your-face for my liking. Please Quentin, just do what you do best, and stay behind the camera in future.