Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christopher Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L Jackson
Plot: Bounty Hunter, King Schultes (Christopher Waltz) frees and befriends a resilient slave (Jamie Foxx), who agrees to partner with him, in return for help finding his wife (Kerry Washington)
I have been long anticipating the return of Quentin Tarantino. Sure, his form has been a little shaky (Death Proof wasn’t the most memorable film and I am one of the only people who wasn’t blown away by Inglorious Basterds), yet I had high hopes for this particular film. A bit of background reading told me that this is kind of a pet project of Quentin Tarantino, a subject that has been important to him for a long time.
Slavery. I am familiar with this topic as well, spending a whole semester at University studying literature from the same era the movie takes place. It is a grim topic and not one that makes for easy cinema. It must be said that Quentin Tarantino knows his stuff, proven by Leonardo Di Caprio’s monologue detailing the science of phrenology (a theory made up by whites to discriminate against blacks). It was clear that there was passion behind this film.
In a sense, it is a clever genre to make a film out of. I am not insinuating that Quentin Tarantino took an easy option for this film, but there aren’t any modern contenders depicting this topic. This important part of American history is retold for a younger audience (not to mention an audience that wouldn’t necessarily go and see a historical drama). Personally, I am kind of impressed that Quentin Tarantino is moving away from his ‘carefree violence’ to tell an important story, showing a responsibility people may have not seen in him before.
Although there is no modern films showing the slave trade (ignore the upcoming Lincoln film – it tells the story from the political side), I still think that Quentin Tarantino may have beat films like ‘The Colour Purple’ and ‘Mandingo’ in terms of telling this side of history. This is mainly due to him having the upper hand of a rated 18 film and an industry more lenient with censorship: the violence in the film shows us what really is going on, rather than implying the brutality that the slaves are faced with.
And this style benefits the movie in itself: this violence makes us really hate the villains of the film. Samuel L Jackson and Walter Goggins play the kind of guys, you spend the film just waiting to get a really painful death (Walter Goggins, in particular, gets a very brutal finish). That is one flaw I thought of though: I just couldn’t bring myself to hate Leonardo Di Caprio’s Calvin Candie. He was a brilliant bad guy, sure, but he was so fun to watch onscreen, part of me wanted him to get the upper hand on Django and Schultes.
Away from the history lesson and violence debates however, time to talk about the acting and direction. Leonardo Di Caprio and Christopher Waltz are in their element here, bringing the best lines to the film (although I disagree with people saying that it is Leonardo’s best yet). Waltz is, by far, the superior actor, bringing hilarity to the most serious situations. And near the end, when he fails to muster up a sense of humour, you really feel the sense of dread creeping up on the movie. In a way, these two titans take away the spotlight from the romantic leads, Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington (not her fault, the script asks her to be little more than ‘damsel in distress’).
Despite overlooking certain characters, the script is tight and well-written. Of course, being Quentin Tarantino, in the final act, he drops all conventions and has his fun. It is a moment of pure brilliance that might be lost of anyone who isn’t a regular of Tarantino cinema. Sadly, when the film is lined up for a decent ending, Tarantino doesn’t take it and stretched the film out for another, somewhat needless, twenty minutes. There is a sense he couldn’t choose between the ‘fun’ ending and the ‘heroic’ ending, so he went for both. He should have been decisive, picked one and been done with it.
Final verdict: With the exception of a little over-indulgence on Tarantino’s part, he successfully tells a story that needed to be told, adding his own special touch to the genre.