Jeffrey's Review of Django Unchained
The king of exploitative cinema, Quentin Tarantino, delivers yet another brilliant, stylistic film, that is sure to spark controversy and unsettle many viewers. It's daring, incredibly well acted, very well directed, and unexpected, making it one of the more memorable cinematic experiences of the year.
The performances of all involved were phenomenal, with Leonardo DiCaprio seemingly stealing the show with his nefariously charming personality and immense presence, with captivating performances as well from Christoph Waltze, Jamie Foxx, and Samuel L. Jackson. All deliver the dialogue they are given with a keen sense of their characters, all offering unique personalities that add up to a vivid, if not dark, world.
The script is characteristically strong, and methodically paced. The first two acts are essentially a slow burn until it reaches an explosive (no pun intended) third act, one that feels organic to the story, and is undoubtedly satisfying. In some parts it feels like a traditional western, with many long continuous shots of dialogue, followed by rapid bursts of action. Yet it departs in that the violence is unrelenting, graphic, and quite stylized.
By exploitative, it should be noted that the film itself is skillfully exploitative. It's not simply violence for the sake of violence, or race baiting for the sake of race baiting. It really is a work of art, if not simply on a cinematic level. Anyone looking for historical realism should of course be careful. The villains were meant to be caricatures. The antebellum south is certainly painted with a broad brush, the realities of the time were far more complicated than most Hollywood films care to acknowledge. The use of racial epithets is extreme and unsettling, to be sure, and the violence that Foxx displays in the film is glorified. Some may find this a form of racism in and of itself. On a certain level there's validity to that, but only if taken on face value, which Tarantino films never should. It's sophisticated cinema, not necessarily as sophisticated in its themes. Looked at in this context, I didn't find the film particularly offensive (aside from what is intended). What I saw Tarantino as trying to do was flip the bigotry of that time on its head, in certainly a provocative manner, and to essentially illustrate the absurd by being absurd.
Undeniably enjoyable, beautifully filmed, engagingly directed and acted, it's one of the top films of 2012.