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Film Review – Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Players: Jamie Foxx; Christoph Waltz; Kerry Washington; Leonardo di Caprio; Samuel T. Jackson; Bruce Dern
Genre: action; violence; satire
Venue: Cine 2, Ster Kinekor,  Maerua Mall
Rating: ***

This film appeared to be highly regarded among Academy members at the Oscars, winning Best Adapted screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Christoph Waltz as Dr King Schultz, dentist turned bounty hunter. I find it difficult to share the Academy adulation which seems to be accorded to this director/writer and feel personally that Tarantino has found a niche market – violence – and is milking this for all it is worth. The violence of the climax demeans and overshadows some of the earlier sections of the film which have some worthy social criticism of the most abhorrent of practices – the slave trade.
Generally, though, Tarantino’s approach to satire has the subtlety of a sledgehammer, which would probably rate as a preferred weapon, along with the sub-machine gun, whips, and dynamite in abundance, vicious man-eating dogs, and a remarkable repeating revolver. No character in a Tarantino film ever expires quietly on a feather pillow with a priest’s soothing mantra to usher him to the next world. In Tarantino films, characters die noisily, with a good deal of squirming and screaming, and usually require at least three bullets to finish them off and to silence their torment.
Waltz won Best Supporting actor, barely a hardship when the writer has given him the best dialogue in the film, superbly crafted lines of wit, delivered with academic aplomb, and a ready-made quirky character with a fine sense of irony. For most of the film he upstages Django, who starts off as a cowed and craven slave, capable of little more than muttered monosyllables. Yes, he does grow in stature as he learns at the foot of the master what an adrenalin surge can result from packing a gun and using it, motivated by little more than personal dislike. Racism and prejudice are obviously an important theme in this film. Tarantino creates some sardonic scenes and some farcical. The character of Calvin Candy (di Caprio) is a case in point: as a southern plantation-owner who has inherited a slave-owning mentality and lese majeste, di Caprio does a superb job of creating a character at once urbane, genteel, and amiable, whose attractive characteristics veil a reptilian ruthlessness and cruelty. Once thwarted, he becomes vengeful to the point of maniacal insanity. Naturally, there is a plethora of illiterate cowpokes whose raison d’etre seems to be prejudice and anti-racial activities. One of the most humorous scenes involves a nocturnal gathering of Klu Klux Klan characters in ill-fitting headbags where the eye-slits are too small for any of them to pinpoint the enemy. Petty wrangling about the shortcomings of their headgear completely diverts them from the job in hand – to eliminate Django. A host of grubby, unwashed cowpokes are sprinkled throughout the action, mouthing racist insults, defamatory language, and indulging in petty acts of cruelty.  Candy is still the most chilling of all, however, because his cruelty has a terrible focus, with his obsession with Mandingo fighting by his slaves as a means of making money.
The bounty hunter mouths a couple of pointed comparisons between his professional occupation and slavery: ‘Like slavery, it’s a flesh-for-cash business.’
The film is far too long – self-indulgently so.  A horrendous climax of blood-letting would have proved a dramatic high point on which to finish the story but Tarantino drags it out with torture sessions on a captured Django and his transportation to work at Le Quint Dickey Mining Company. Tarantino himself has a cameo appearance at this point aping an execrable Afrikaans accent, together with an illiterate Australian with an IQ of an amoeba.

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