Andy Stuckey, Ryan Maddux
Greensburg Daily News
Our look at Oscar hopefuls continues this week with Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti-western Django Unchained (R).
Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a former slave turned bounty-hunter who, along with his partner (Christoph Waltz), ventures into southern Mississippi to procure his wife from a southern plantation (headed by Leonardo Dicaprio). Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins and Don Johnson costar in the film.
Ryan: A white director making a film about slavery with over a hundred utterances of the n-word is surely going to be steeped in controversy. It goes without saying that Tarantino is no to stranger to this. Tarantino is a brilliant filmmaker, so there’s a justified reaction to look at his films as existing beyond the surface of the given story. Obviously, making a revenge western about slavery is going to lend itself to all kinds of speculation and theories.
And I’m sure even Tarantino would admit (to some degree) that the film can be looked at from many different levels of meaning. But ultimately the impression that I got (from Tarantino’s vantage as a filmmaker) was that in today’s world (21st century America) the idea of slavery is so intellectually absurd (as it should be) that one of the ways to process it is to produce a story that matches that level of absurdity.
I don’t mean that in terms of the Django Unchained being a farce; because it isn’t. More to the point I believe that Tarantino wanted to make a historically-unbound by-the-books spaghetti-western that would capture his modus operandi as a filmmaker. For that he succeeds in making one of the most entertaining films of the year.
Andy: I think that’s a very reasonable way of looking at the slavery controversy surrounding the film. Of course the use of inflammatory, racially charged language (especially by a white director) is going work up a significant portion of the movie-watching public. However, that is part of his point. You are supposed to feel uncomfortable enjoying this movie. Both the black / white relations and the extreme, cathartic revenge violence that the film explores are aspects of American history and culture that Tarantino is daring you to deal with while you watch the film. The fact that he is able to do this and create an enjoyable movie is a testament to his filmmaking abilities.
Ryan: Tarantino’s films are not for everybody, and that’s been the case most of the time. His stylized violence has its defenders as well as its detractors. If one likes the revenge-laden plots in the Kill Bill films or Inglorious Basterds, then it’s safe to assume that one will like Django Unchained as well. In fact I found Django Unchained to be more focused as a film than those two above-mentioned movies. The climax of Django Unchained is clunky at times, but flows in a way superior to Inglorious Basterds, which felt less of a movie and more of a series of shorts edited together.
Additionally, Tarantino has always been able to elicit strong performances from his cast of players. That is the case here again as I found Christoph Waltz’s performance to be better than his Oscar winning performance from Inglorious Basterds. He’s a fantastic actor.
Andy: Here is where I must disagree a bit. One of my biggest problems with Django is that it feels a little too much like Inglorious Basterds (historically inaccurate revenge fantasy), but is not quite implemented as well.
Tarantino has consistently challenged himself as a screenwriter and filmmaker, but this is the first time that I feel like he is more or less rehashing plot ideas from his previous film. Don’t get me wrong, Django Unchained is still a fine piece of filmmaking, but it seems to be a concept that is derivative of Tarantino’s previous film, and that is a little disappointing. That said, the intellectual challenge, violent fun, and superb performances from Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz make the movie easily one of the best of the year.
Django Unchained is not without criticism and it’s a movie that will stir debate. All-in-all I think it’s still one of the best films of the year, earning a solid A-.