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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Django Unchained

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I blog about one of the many movies I own on a home media format of some kind.  I think this is the first Tarantino film I do, and it's his most recent, Django Unchained.  This shows up in my notes at September 18, 2013.

Django Unchained movie poster

I've actually had Django Unchained for a few months now, and watched it a few times, but procrastination always kicked in and I never got around to writing it up.  But now, with my shiny new HDTV, I've experience the glory in hi-def, so let's quit putting it off.

Ah, Quentin Tarantino.  The man who pretty much defined the indie film movement of the 1990s.  When they write the book on the films of the 1990s, the chapter on indie films must being with the movie poster for Pulp Fiction.  Tarantino was described as the first director of the video generation...the one who was able to study the greats by watching them over and over and over again on VHS.  I remember, shortly after Pulp Fiction came out, Siskle and Ebert did a massive special all about Tarantino and how he was going to change film forever.

Did he?  He was definitely one of the first to have characters do endless discussions and references to pop culture, and there were a slew of Pulp Fiction knock-offs in the year or two afterwards, but I'm still not sure if he had some kind of lasting impact. 

I'm not as obsessed with the works of Tarantino, like most of my generation are, but you can't deny he has become a name, like Spielberg.  One of those directors where every film he makes is an event.  And with that, you can't help but notice.

So Django Unchained was getting lots of interest in the months before its release.  Tarantino had long been a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, so when he said he wanted to do a Western, people were intrigued.  And, Tarantino had an interesting take.  As Tarantino pointed out, for a portion of that period known as "the old West," slavery was still at thing in the USA, but Westerns had never tackled it. 

But since blaxploitation films were also an influence of Tarantino's, we deeply suspected it wasn't going to be subtle.

The film opens with some newly-bought slaves on a death march through Texas, when the slave traders are confronted by the charming and well-spoken German dentist Dr. King Schultz.  Schultz negotiates the purchase of one their slaves, Django, and then promptly kills the slave traders.  Schultz reveals that he's not a dentist, but a bounty hunter, and he purchased Django because Shultz is on the trail of some brutal slave drivers known as the Brittle Brothers, and Django is the only one who's seen their faces.  If Django helps Schultz track down the Brittle Brothers, Schultz, who actually finds slavery abhorrent, will grant Django his freedom.

I remember the trailers really played up this search for the Brittle Brothers quite a bit, but in the film, it's done in about the first 20 minutes.

With his new found freedom, Django resolves to track down his wife, long sold to someone else, so they can run off and be free together.  Taken by Django's tale and its similarity to old German legends, Schultz resolves to help Django.  But it's fall, so since Django has shown a talent for this bounty hunting, maybe they can spend the winter making some money and go find his wife in the spring.

Here's a movie I want to see.  I want to see the mid-quel featuring Django and Schultz journeying across the wintry Old West rounding up bad guys.  Instead, we get a speech from Schultz on their profession, a training montage for Django, and that's about it.  Jamie Foxx as Django and Christoph Waltz as Schultz are just so good together, I wanted to see more of them in, like some kind of buddy-cop mold.

Spring time comes, and Schultz and Django discover that Hildie (that's Django's wife) is currently the property of a rather ruthless plantation owner named Calvin Candee, and out at his plantation known as Candeeland.  But for some reason, just wandering into Candeeland and making an offer to buy Hildie is too simple, and they think that would make Candee suspicious.  So they concoct a rather large scheme.  Candee is big into "Mandingo fighting," which is making slaves fight each other for sport.  Posing as a couple of slave traders, Django and Schultz decide to put in an offer on one of Candee's prized Mandingo fighters, and then get him to throw in Hildie.

So their act catches Candee's attention, they head to Candeeland, they make contact with Hildie and let her in on their plan.  Things seem to be going well, but over dinner to seal the deal, Stephen, Candee's loyal servant and house slave (played by Tarantino regular and the always awesome Samuel L. Jackson), can't help but notice Django and Hildie always making eyes at each other, and tips off Candee that something's up.  Their plan revealed, Candee goes ape-shit, and extorts a large sum of money from Schultz and Django for Hildie's freedom.

Again, things seem to be going well.  Their about to get Hildie's freedom and be on their way, but Schultz finds Candee to be such a repugnant human being that he kills Candee.  Candee's men kill Schultz, and huge shootout erupts between Django and Candee's men.

See, many people thought that this would be a good end.  Have Django win the shootout, grab Hildie, and ride off into the sunset.  But Tarantino himself has said that that would be too expected, so he wanted to try something different.  Instead, what happens, Django loses the shootout, Hildie is locked away to be dealt with later, and Django is sold back into slavery to be worked to death in a mine.  But, on the way to the mine, Django is able to talk his way to freedom with the slave traders, kill them and take their gear, and ride back for Hildie. 

I do agree with one critic.  For most of the film, Django does seem to be a sidekick to Schultz.  Here is where Django really, finally, comes into his own and becomes the hero. 

Now we get the shootout where Django emerges victorious, he blows up Candeeland, rescues Hildie, and they ride off into the sunset. 

Yeah...that ending is the best example of the main thing wrong with Django Unchained.  it really does feel like it drags in some places.  I see online that I'm not the only one who speculated that that was due to the loss of Tarantino's longtime collaborator and editor, Sally Menke.

Even though it doesn't have the chapter headings prevalent in other Tarantino films, it does feel just as episodic as those films.  Sections of the film do have clearly-defined beginnings, middles, and ends.  Tarantino should have kept the chapter headings.

It drags in places, it's definitely Tarantino's bloodiest film, but other than that, the acting is good, and the trademark Tarantino dialogue is as cracking as ever.  It's good, but Tarantino indulges in his indulgences a little too much.

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