Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: "Django Unchained"

Are you aware of the connection that Christoph Waltz in "Django Unchained" has with Vanilla Ice in "Cool as Ice"? It's a stretch, but follow me on this:
  • Both characters enter town and introduce themselves in bold ways - Shultz has a wagon with a prop tooth on top, Ice rides obnoxiously on a motorcycle
  • Both are foreigners - Waltz being from Europe and Ice being from another planet (based on his clothing).
  • The way they use words either completely confuses or charms people.
  • And the two are not met well by the majority of others from their race.
Now, Waltz' character is named Dr. King Schultz - DR. KING. Does he have something in common with one of the greatest activists of all time? Yes, in that he despises slavery and racism, but nothing else really - it just amounts to a not so subtle reference. Sure, my above observation is pretty silly, but it's also ridiculous for there to be such controversy around a movie where one of the leads has more in common with a 90's white rapper than the African American civil rights leader he's named after. 

Wait - maybe THAT is worthy of controversy...

The story itself is pretty simple; an American slave is freed by a European bounty hunter, who teaches him the skills he'll need to rescue his slave wife from an infamous plantation owner. It plays out like a western style fairy tale, with an old knight passing the torch to the young hero in order to rescue the damsel in distress  and bring some justice to the land. However, according to some people, it's actually much simpler; white people saying the N word to black people.

I'm surprised at the outrage over the depiction of slavery era South. Isn't it well known, by now, that these things - dramatized a bit by the movie, sure - actually happened? I remember when pro wrestler JBL, on a tour of Germany for WWE, did a Nazi march and Hitler salute during a match. He was playing the character of a bad guy, and as the bad guy, was just trying to get a reaction from the crowd. Of course, it's pretty much taboo to do stuff like that, and people got pissed (which is what he wanted). Perhaps that is what is happening here; the simple mentioning of a racial slur smothers the context it was delivered in. Tarantino, while being a guy that loves paying tribute to exploitation films (and a white person, though I would argue that point) he wasn't exploiting the N word or using it as a cheap move - it was just part of the setting of his story. And what a rich setting for character and drama. 

Django is mentored by the color blind white bounty hunter Schultz. When introduced to him, he behaves much like Rudy Ray Moore's Dolemite - he talks fancy, shoots quickly and drops money on a bad guy like a hero. Calvin Candie (the plantation owner) is, in an interesting twist, being mentored by his head house slave Stephen. When introduced to him, he behaves much like the old right hand man, wanting to maintain whatever power he has. Once these four men come together, it becomes Schultz vs. Candie and Django vs. Stephen. Tarantino could've easily had our hero confront the despicable plantation head, but instead chose a more thoughtful pairing. The revenge that is ultimately had is not simply slave vs. owner (or black vs. white, which most people probably guessed it would be) but instead a conflict between ideology / humanity and tradition / power. 

Once you get past the controversy that is saying a word in a historically appropriate context, "Django Unchained" is really an almost perfect movie. I'm not exactly sure where to rank this film in the lexicon of Tarantino's works (personally, I feel that "Inglourious Basterds" is his best, and even his self proclaimed worst project, "Death Proof", is good).  The man knows how to build a story up, create tension and suspense throughout and use playful filmmaking techniques. He is the modern Sergio Leone, and more often than not, hits a home run with everything he shoots. 

I've been playing the Rifftrax version of "Cool as Ice" on repeat on and off today. In another funny way, the character of Django has something in common with Vanilla Ice as well; they both wear clothing that is loud and proud. Do you find my early 90's references to be controversial? Chill out and get fresh - I'm gonna be off coolin'. Yep yep.

5/5 *s

1 comment:

  1. Shows Tarantino is on winning creative streak, able to engage
    viewers with a sharply honed script while authentically presenting
    unpleasant episodes from American history.

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