Django Unchained (2012)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #571

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Genre: Western
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $100,000,000
Box Office: $425,400,000
Running Time: 165 minutes
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producers: Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Special Effects: Greg Nicotero
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Editing: Fred Raskin
Studios: Columbia Pictures, The Weinstein Company
Distributor: The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Releasing
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, David Steen, Dana Gourrier, Nichole Galicia, Laura Cayouette, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Jonah Hill, Zoë Bell, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, John Jarratt, Quentin Tarantino

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♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Rick Ross 100 Black Coffins

[2] Luis Bacalov Django

[3] 2Pac Feat. James Brown Unchained

 

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I wish to begin my appraisal for Quentin Tarantino’s epic western Django Unchained by dealing with the elephant in the room. You see, the word “nigger” is used no less than 110 times and caused no end of controversy when the film was released theatrically in 2012. Amongst its detractors was a filmmaker of whom I have gargantuan respect, Spike Lee, and he took great exception to Tarantino’s fragrant use of the “N word”. I grew up with Lee’s work and, should you ask for my all-time top 100 favorite movies, then Do The Right Thing, The 25th Hour, and the criminally underrated School Daze would all be sitting pretty in the upper echelons. However, he appeared to take leave of his senses when holding Tarantino in contempt and his argument falls flat any way you look at it. To coin a phrase – nigger please – and don’t even think of playing the race card as it isn’t applicable here. Time to bust some taboos and slacken those chains.

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So I guess the best thing to do would be to introduce the titular character right? He goes by the name of Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) and, if anyone has a right to feel aggrieved, then Django’s your man. You see, as our story commences, this poor fella is shackled amongst a group of black slaves, on a thankless pilgrimage to yet more mistreatment. Right now Django couldn’t shit a luck nugget if he guzzled a tin of baked beans and washed it down with lighter fluid and his tragic tale stretches back to way before any current indignity.

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Devoted husband to fellow drudge, the beautiful and strong-willed Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), the pair were callously separated and his identity snatched away in the process. They say that behind every great man is a great woman but that is no longer true for Django as his rearview comprises nothing more than pain and anguish. Even more agonizingly, the outlook ahead is no less barren. The year is 1858 which should give you a fair idea of the tribulations he faces.

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However, angels come in all different shapes and sizes and, in Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), he lands himself a guardian of the avenging variety. At first glance, Schultz appears little more than a kindly and remarkably eloquent German dentist and, indeed, he’ll have that wisdom tooth out in a jiffy. That is not to say that he carries his dentistry tools on his personage at all times, but a bullet should achieve the desired result. Pulling molars isn’t really his purpose as there’s a lot more money and gratification in the bounty hunter trade and he happens to be rather proficient at this particular vocation. Having forsaken Düsseldorf in the pursuit of fresh pastures, he has inexplicably ended up in Texas and, in Django, sees far more than skin coloration. With the aroma of untapped potential in both flared nostrils, Schultz throws his downtrodden friend a bone. In exchange for helping him track down and identify his next hard targets, unruly outlaws the Brittle brothers, he is prepared to break Django’s stifling manacles and grant him the freedom he so desperately craves.

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To provide additional sweetener, Schultz provides an impromptu display of his gunslinging skills by punishing those who regard the black man as theirs for the taking. Then, as a token act of goodwill, he releases any fellow scullions. Django isn’t required to think long and hard about this one as his overwhelming desire is to be reunited with his beloved Hildi and Schultz represents his only opportunity to make that so. It isn’t long before the pair pick up the trail that leads to the Brittles and, with them no longer a concern and all warrant terms met, his work appears to be done. However, Schultz is so impressed by his associate’s own sharp shooting that he decides it is time to thrash out a new set of terms.

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Django has collected his first bounty and even has the handbill as a lucky keepsake, but it doesn’t necessarily have to end there. Should he decline, then Schultz will act dutifully and uphold his end of the bargain but, if the idea of becoming his apprentice sounds at all appealing, then partnership beckons. One winter of standing side-by-side while supplying the scum of the Earth with shallow graves and he will assist his deputy in tracking down his off-track bride, as well as supplying any necessary on-the-job training entailed. Deal number two is struck and, moreover, the pair begin to form a tangible bond. Handling a firearm is something Django masters in no time and, together, the green bills soon come rolling in. Everyone’s a winner except, of course, any poor bastard with a price on their head.

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After Winter comes Spring and, true to form, Schultz comes good on his oath. They travel to Mississippi, in hope of locating Broomhilda’s keeper, and pinpoint her coordinates to the Candyland plantation, governed by prepossessing but bad-to-the-bones aristocrat Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). While Django is chomping at the bit to reclaim his soul mate, Schultz is under no illusion that a cunning plan is in order to do so with the minimum of fuss and suggests their angle.

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Heading off to Candie’s personal gentleman’s club, they express an interest in procuring one of his prized fighters. Said brawlers are forced to fight to the death in “Mandingo fights” and Django is presented as something of an expert in this particular field. Of course, this will mean upholding the charade until a deal can be struck and, under no circumstances, should Django break formation, or else both men will be held in contempt.

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While, on paper this sounds like a relatively trouble-free endeavor, there are a few potential bumps in the road to fortitude. Firstly, Hildi is being held at Candie’s ranch and her treatment there is far less than hospitable, which has Django’s trigger finger as itchy as hell. Secondly, Candie’s fiercely dependable house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), is more than a little adept at sniffing out rats and it doesn’t take long for his nostrils to gape. The net is rapidly closing in around Schultz and Django, and striking the additional deal to purchase the German-speaking Broomhilda may prove more problematic than simply signing the dotted line.

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Tarantino’s stylized take on the Spaghetti Western pays affectionate homage to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film Django but also nestles right in amongst his other fine works and has that same distinctive feel that make all of his journeys such a sublime pleasure to embark upon. All of the usual components are in place, from slick presentation, masterful storytelling, a soundtrack that takes every last name of each ass it kicks, and a genuine authenticity that shows just how much he has done his homework. I say work when clearly Tarantino has gleaned rather a lot of pleasure from this particular genre, a fact proved by his decision to return to the Old West for his next opus, The Hateful Eight. Yet, for all the authentic spit and polish, it still feels fresh and relevent. Even those who ordinarily avoid saloons like a dose of Bubonic, are still guaranteed a hootenanny to tell their grandchildren about and this is where his films become so damn compulsive.

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Of course, for as much as I could sit here all day fondling his testicles, there are other dicks just waiting to be sucked too. Thus, I have applied the lipstick and have my mouthwash close-by in case I accidentally release the safety. It wouldn’t be right to begin anywhere other than Django himself and Foxx is predictably all-in way before the flop. He bares his gums, knuckles and, in turn, soul for our benefit and can never be accused of not applying himself for the cause. That’s not to say he’s always likeable, sometimes we just want to give him a slap upside his head but, when you consider the hardship he has faced, I guess it’s only right that he be a little cranky.

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As for Waltz, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe what a powerhouse this man is. Moreover, Schultz is never less than a pleasure to ride alongside and his attendance here is critical to our investment. Tarantino knows precisely how to mine for his gold and anyone who watched him as SS Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds will be all too familiar with his smiling assassin persona. Here he is far more civil, but suffering fools is not something he does gladly. There is also a moral code he abides by that makes his safe-keeping imperative throughout and many of the film’s standout moments revolve around him in particular.

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Time for DiCaprio to unzip next as Calvin J. Candie is a marvellously pernicious piece of work. All airs and graces one minute, he’ll turn on a nickel if he sees the shaft stick approaching and I’m yet to find a movie that doesn’t benefit from DiCaprio’s involvement. One thing you’re guaranteed from him is 100% and he’ll gladly throw in another ten for a foot massage. Well, it just so happens that Tarantino knows his way around all ten toes and, while the gender may not suit, he’s done well enough by now to keep a foot spa on set. A film like Django Unchained needs itself a bankable villain and, in DiCaprio, it more than has one.

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Where Jackson is concerned, well let me just say this. Should he be relinquishing snakes of their flight privileges or busting a cap in “peanut-headed niggaz” in the trunk of his Oldsmobile, this man is one long stick of ebony dynamite and, while Stephen may not be too crash hot on the furious anger front since his hip replacement, he certainly has the snivelling rat routine licked. Not to be trusted, unless your name is Calvin J. Candie, in which case he’s like a dependable ferret, his character may be black on the outside but, make him bleed, and a white man’s blood will flow. This should make him hateful and, indeed, his meddling is pretty damn despicable but Jackson delivers so much gold bullion that you’ll be dripping in bling before you care.

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Washington is also grand in her smaller capacity and exhudes spirit and resolve in precisely the manner that could drive a man to chop off both his getaway sticks at the knees, just so she can soak his stumps. The rest of the cast more than tow the line, while the cameos read like a who’s who of Tarantino’s little black book. From Tom Savini to Bruce Dern and back to Jonah Hill before the dust settles, there is even time for Franco Nero to make an appearance in the ultimate tip of the Stetson to Corbucci’s original.

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However, while Django Unchained may be respectful of its origins, it never once tastes like reheated spaghetti. This is what you get with a Tarantino movie Grueheads, consistency the likes of which few other modern-day filmmakers can boast. Whether that be in the Wild West, war-torn Paris, or Okinawa, Japan, one thing is for damned sure. The results will always be off the chain.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Name me a Spaghetti Western bereft of marinara and I’ll gladly drink my milk. The whole violence debate where Tarantino is involved got old two decades ago but, still, a few undesirables play peek-a-boo behind their bitter bile. Let me make this abundantly clear: any brutality (and rest assured there is plenty) is saved for those who have wronged Django. When slaves are mistreated, it is appropriately handled and never once comes across as anything other than jarring. However, should the trash need to be taken out, then it’s time for an almighty yee-haw as each punishment fits its crime. With Greg Nicotero slurping sarsaparilla on the sidelines, you can bet your rump it’s gonna get messy. As for nudity, we are presented with a distant flash of Hildi’s supple brown curves but, considering what she has just been subjected to, best keep those pieces in the holsters fellow gunslingers.

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