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Django is 'off the chain'

New film by Quentin Tarantino re-envisions classic genre

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Posted: Wednesday, January 2, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:13 pm, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Quentin Tarantino’s "“Django Unchained”": takes place in the slaveholding U.S. South two years before the Civil War. The film tells the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave, and the man who liberated him, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter masquerading as a humble dentist. An opponent of slavery, Schultz frees Django because he needs him to identify the Brittle Brothers, a trio of outlaws whom Schultz has targeted for his next bounty. The two partner up and make a pact that Schultz will help Django free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) — who was sold to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), owner of one of the largest plantations in the country — after the job is done. What follows is a series of gunfights across Texas and the South, and the duo encounters unfriendly townsfolk at every stop.

The film’s cinematography is incredible, including breathtaking shots of the protagonists riding through crisp mountain ranges and endless pastures with their guns raised in the air. Many of the shots were rich in color. While the gunfire makes “Django” less gory than his other recent films such as “Kill Bill,” you can still expect most conflicts to end in thick, syrupy blood and other quintessential Tarantino tropes. Even these scenes were artfully done; the splatter of blood on a cotton field or the long gaze of an outlaw that’s been shot through the heart.

The music of “Django Unchained” did well to blend the genres of Blaxploitation and Spaghetti Western. The film featured pieces composed by Ennio Morricone, whose work has appeared in films such as “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,” that were iconic in the Western genre, though tracks like “Unchained” by Tupac and Al Green reaffirm that this ain’t your Dad’s Shoot ‘Em Up flick. No matter the song, the score helps to perfectly accent the mood of its accompanying scene. Whether it’s the familiar sounds of a twanging guitar or Rick Ross’ “Hundred Black Coffins,” the music just works.

Although it isn’t his most deep or complex film, “Django Unchained” seems like the movie Tarantino’s career has been leading up to. All of the allusions his previous films make to ‘60s and ‘70s cinema are able to come out full force as Tarantino flexes his muscle as a movie buff. The film’s titular character and theme song are derived from the 1966 Western, “Django,” which Tarantino pays homage to with a cameo (how else would the stranger at the bar know the “D” is silent?). Tarantino also explored the relationship between blacks and whites in previous movies and engages the topic even deeper in "Django Unchained."

While many period films tend to tiptoe around America’s sordid past, this film confronts it directly, and makes it central to the plot. True to the era – and most of Tarantino’s movies — expect to hear the “n-word” a lot. “Django Unchained” exposes the barbarism of slavery in pre-Civil War times in disgusting and unflinching detail. Two scenes in particular are especially painful to watch.

The acting among all the main characters was well done. Will Smith was one of the possibilities considered to take the lead role as Django, but it’s unlikely that the Fresh Prince could have pulled it off as well as Foxx. Foxx demonstrated his range of ability, alternating from pleading slave to confident free man as the character developed throughout the movie. Christoph’s role as the verbose Dr. Schultz played a good contrast to the typical silent, stoic Western archetype and is an interesting contrast to Hans Landa, his character in “Inglourious Basterds.” Samuel L. Jackson also diverted from his normal typecast role as “Loud Badass” to play the elderly “Uncle Tom” Stephen, making for one of his most interesting performances. Leonardo DiCaprio does an exceptional job as Calvin Candie, making the character as charismatic as he is cruel.

All-in-all, “Django Unchained” has all the trappings of a classic Western, but with a contemporary voice.

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