Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The first screenplay I purchased was Pulp Fiction. I had just started writing screenplays and I was sort of a wide eyed kid with wonder - this was a new and exciting world I had discovered. Then I read Pulp Fiction and I have never been the same since. Tarantino was breaking all of the rules - his characters and dialogue drove the plot, rather than the plot driving the characters. This was something highly unusual in most successful American Hollywood films. I realized that the only rule was to entertain the audience. Yes you must be a skilled writer and you must know your craft, but if the audience isn't entertained none of that matters.
Which brings us to Django Unchained. A film that has gotten many mixed reactions, of course controversial reactions that Tarantino is a racist for using the word "nigger" more times than we can count. I remember when Jackie Brown came out and he got the same reaction. We must first realize that Tarantino grew up loving the Blaxploitation films of the 70's with Pam Grier. During that period of time "politically correct" wasn't a term. What was important was ENTERTAINMENT. What Django brings to cinema is a tribute to both the old Westerns and the Blaxploitation films. There is social commentary but first and formost, we are entertained by an exciting and bold film.
Right away Tarantino throws us into the old west where slaves are being marched through the desert and the woods in leg irons, led by two white men on horses. We know we aren't dealing with a typical John Wayne western. They are interupted by a German man with a horse and carriage who goes by the name of Dr. King Schultz. He frees one of the slaves named Django. We don't know why exactly, but we come to find that Dr. Schultz is not a doctor but a bounty hunter and he needs young Django to hunt down three wanted men that were once Django's owners. What follows is a wonderful adventure as they form a dynamic partnership. We find out that Django is also married and that his quest is to find his wife. There is also a line that could only be delivered by Jamie Foxx (Django) when he is being taught by the great Christopher Waltz (Dr. Schultz) to become a bounty hunter; "Get payed for killing white people? What's not to like?"
There are many human moments that balance out this sort of dark humor - human moments that make the movie really work. That is what filmmakers forget when they are trying so hard to shock audiences. Tarantino takes his time to let you get to know these characters and why they are behaving the way the are behaving. There are no throw away scenes in this two hour and fourty-five-minute film. In the second half of the film we meet Leonardo DiCaprio's character Calvin Candie, a plantation land baron who also has possession of Django's wife Broomhilda. DiCaprio plays one of the best villains in cinema history, His charm and charisma make him all that more evil. But worse than Calvin Candie is Samuel L. Jackson as his "house slave/assistant". Jackson steals the show in his short screen time. Tarantino knows how to use his talent. I have heard Tarantino say in interviews that Sam Jackson recites his lines like poetry, and I completely agree.
What Tarantino does with every film, is give you something you aren't quite expecting. When you feel the movie going one direction he takes a turn. He does this through dialogue, through plot, and of course bizarre music that pops up during unexpected moments (The ear cutting scene with Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs). This is a filmmaker that truly loves cinema and entertaining his audience. Are we uncomfortable sometimes? Of course. Because if we get too comfortable with a film we know exactly where it's going. And what's the fun in that?