America loves its guns. Ironically, America also happens to love justice. So when a well-publicized movie features a pre-Civil War freedman taking violent revenge upon his oppressors, audiences don’t know whether to pump their fists in the air and cheer or sit slack-jawed at the carnage.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django: Unchained” invites both reactions.
Yet, Tarantino’s impeccable crafting of this film overpowers underlying concerns. Undeniably, “Django: Unchained” is epic. Quentin knows how to command the audience’s attention, and their attention is rewarded by a visual wonderland achieved without CGI effects.
The carnal violence is often softened by a comic touch. One scene involves KKK members about to launch a raid, and they can’t seem to fit their masks. Zesty one-liners (“Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to love?”) are pervasive without seeming like they’re trying too hard to be funny.
When it comes to the actors themselves, the two shining stars are Christoph Waltz, who won a Golden Globe for his appearance, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who, despite winning the hearts of many, hasn’t been recognized by the film industry.
DiCaprio in particular was superb, portraying a character simultaneously revolting, yet charming enough that audiences fawned over him. In a fascinating bit of trivia, Leonardo cut his hand so badly during a scene that he required stitches but never broke character, much to the surprise of his fellow actors and amazement of the director.
A discussion of “Django” would not be complete without touching upon its controversy. Derided for its language, violence and anachronisms, “Django” raises many eyebrows and a storm of commentary. In this author’s opinion, that should not detract from the work itself.
Nobody is attempting to be racist. Indeed, the film is one of revenge, providing the same morally ambiguous feeling of gratification that killing Nazis achieves in “Inglorious Basterds.” The biggest question that the film raises is one of morality. Are the mass killings justified? In the context of cinema, when does murder for revenge cross the line to murder for the sake of murder?
Does this kind of movie contribute to the gun and violence-obsessed culture pervasive in the United States? Being a militant pacifist, I am horrified by guns and avoid violence at all cost. Yet, this did not detract from the enjoyment of the movie.
Why? Because the movie is a work of art, and few would argue that taboo alone is basis for the work itself being bad.
The violence in “Django” is gratuitous, but the fight scenes are beyond words in terms of complexity and scale. During one of the major scenes, I happened to turn and look at my friends sitting next to me: hands gripped to the armrests, jaws dropped, eyes wide.
I can’t remember a movie that had such a visceral effect on the audience. This isn’t to say that “Django” is perfect. The film is decidedly more mainstream than Tarantino’s earlier work.
It is paced much faster, but this means that many of the quirks for which Tarantino is known are largely absent. Christopher Walken isn’t talking about keeping a family heirloom in a body cavity.
John Travolta doesn’t have any cultural insights into French McDonald’s. The vice president of the NRA has said that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
After seeing “Django,” it’s apparent that a morally ambiguous guy does the trick, too.