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Tambay's Epic 'Django Unchained' Review - Kill The Noise (Nothing Is Silent)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act December 12, 2012 at 3:03PM

Warning: This is long. As you can see at the bottom, it's broken up into 4 pages, so just click to go to the next page to continue reading.
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- And speaking of emotionally brutal... another problem I experienced while watching the film is that it's missing an emotional connect to match the violence. Usually, in a revenge tale like this, the violence (at least on the part of the hero) is driven by emotion. He's been scarred by the villain in some way, and his desire to avenge or seek revenge, comes from an emotional place. But I just didn't feel a union between the emotion and the violence, if that makes any sense. There's a disconnect, and so the violence, his revenge, his moment to shine, just didn't have the kind of punch that I think was necessary to be satisfying. I was more moved after watching the final 2-man showdown between Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in the aforementioned Once Upon A Time In The West - sans dialogue, straight cuts, and a flashback that literally brings into focus, the driving motivation for Bronson's Harmonica man's journey of quiet yet deadly effective vengeance; and with mission accomplished, he bids the lovely Claudia Cardinale fairwell, as she wishes for his return, all in tight closeups, long stares, as Ennio Morricone's wonderful composition plays. It packed more of a emotional whallop for me than Jamie's own moment(s) to have his vengeance and save his gal. It felt like there are scenes missing - scenes that would've given this the emotional punch it lacks. Especially given that its also being billed as a "love story." Other than Django's desire to find her, there really isn't a single scene between the two of them, as a couple, that really demonstrates that love. There are a few flashback sequences (distant mostly), that fill in some backstory (events that happened before the film begins), as well as fantasy sequences in which Django *sees* Broomhilda (but again, also distant), and there's really only 1 scene in which there's any real loving, physical contact between the two of them - contact that's relegated to just a kiss, which actually looked and felt kind of awkward to me. Jamie didn't look very comfortable in that scene which is actually not very long. It could be in part because he's not what you'd consider a traditional Hollywood leading man (I don't define what that is, by the way). But other than that, and, as I said, Django's desire to find her, I just didn't feel like we are given much to really connect with emotionally. When Django eventually finds her, and they see each other for the first time, in a long time (they were separated and sold to different masters), what does Broomhilda do at the first sight of Django? She faints, in a kind of comical way. And then the audience laughs. We don't see anything else, because the film then cuts to a sequence at Calvin Candie's dinner table. I think inserting a genuine moment of passion between them (and, to be clear, I don't even necessarily mean sex); even just a scene showing them embrace passionately, as if nobody's watching, in tears, relieved, and so happy to see each other again after so long, and not even knowing if the other was still alive. They finally see each other for the first time in ages, and you'd expect a scene of some kind of release and relief between the two of them. But all we get is him walking into the room, her fainting, dropping a glass of water in the process as she falls to the ground, Waltz's character delivering a comical line, the audience laughs, and that's it.

- It take so long to get to the predictable finale, that by the time it happens, I almost didn't care as much anymore, which also took away some of the punch it should have come with. It clocks in at about 2 hours and 35 minutes, which we could say is inline with sphagetti western classics like the those I mentioned above - each clocking in at about the same length of time, and even longer. But I don't know if it's necessarily long because it's an homage to those films, or if QT's films are usually long anyway, so this is just par for the course. Hovewer, unlike the classics, Django is (like most Tarantino films) dialogue-heavy; so scenes that may have been otherwise been quick and quickly forgotten, or that allow you to simply take in the imagery sans conversation, are instead short films themselves. Almost every scene is like its own event. But, again, that's QTs style, so you're either with it, or you're not. It was a mixed-bag for me. I was with it sometimes, and others not-so-much - and it's in those moments that I found myself looking at my watch, checking to see how much time had passed, or how much time was left, given that I knew what the film's running time was. And that's usually not a good thing, when you're checking your watch.

- As I noted in "The Good" section, as far the representation of women - specifically black slave women, and even more specifically, Kerry Washington's character as the film's lead female character - it's not Mandinga, which I think is maybe an approximation of what some were expecting, based on my script review last year. And if you haven't seen Mandinga, just know that the fact that the two films bare no resemblance in terms of their depictions of black slave women, is a very good thing. And despite the blaxploitation influences, there's also no Foxy Brown, or Coffy either; no Cleopatra Jones, Not even a Christie Love. Essentially, the portrayal of black women in the film aren't exploitative, nor are they exotified. However, the problem here is that the role Washington plays is not much of anything at all, and I left the theater wondering why Kerry Washington took the role in the first place, and why she's spent many Django press conferences talking up her involvement in the film, raising expectations for what audiences should expect from her in it. I wonder if she's seen the film yet (as of this past weekend anyway - I believe the NY premiere was last night); I say that because, maybe there was a lot more footage of her shot - footage of her actually doing more than just smiling (in fantasy sequences), or crying, or looking distressed, or screaming for Django - and all that extra footage ended up on the cutting room floor; because she's absolutely wasted here. This is a role that should have gone to an up-and-coming actress looking to break in, and raise industry awareness for herself; not for a seasoned actress like Kerry Washington. And when you consider just how well her hit ABC series is faring right now, her role in Django is quite a step or two down. Granted, when they were shooting the film, Scandal was in its first season, and it wasn't even clear whether ABC would renew it for a second season; but even a year ago, Kerry Washington's name carried a certain reverence, respect and expectation; not that this is an irreverent, or disrespectful role, but it's most certainly not one that you'd expect an actress of her caliber to take; unless the salary offer was one she just couldn't refuse, or she really wanted to appear in a QT movie, and would've taken any role. But really, Broomhilda is a peripheral role. I'm guessing that her attachment may have influenced changes to the character, compared to what we initially read in the script last year, since, as I noted already, those concerns were addressed and absent from the film. But she didn't need to do this. She does have a few lines, but, for the most part, her job was really just to look pretty, cry or look horrified, and smile when asked to. That's pretty much it.

- I didn't care for Samuel L. Jackson in this; and not because he's the proverbial Uncle Tom (maybe the uncle tom of all uncle toms). I just didn't care for his performance; I didn't buy it. There's some make-up or prosthetic, or something on his face, I guess used to age him; but his look was distracting to me; kind of disturbing actually. More like he should've been on a horror film set. Although maybe that was intentional on QT's part. But his performance also was a little too put-on, I'd say, and didn't feel genuine to me. I can't quite put my finger completely on it. At times I felt like, at any moment, he'd break into laughter, breaking character. It felt like, in each of his scenes, he was in an In Living Color skit. But I didn't care for him. I kept wanting him to maybe  be more restrained; quiet, snake-like in a way - slow, silent, slippery but potentially deadly. He wasn't any of those things. And I couldn't take him seriously at all. As an aside, I noticed that his character faced what I thought was a far more gruesome fate than his master, which begs the questions: who's worse - the slave master, or the Uncle Tom?

- I hate plot conveniences/contrivances. They just feel like lazy writing to me. It's hard for me to talk about what I'm referring to in this case, without giving part of the story away, so read at your own risk. I'll try to be as vague as possible. Suffice it to say that, towards the end, it appears that our hero just might face an almost certain death (obviously, he's the hero, and this is a Hollywood studio film, so I don't think we're expecting that he'll die in the end - although, wouldn't that be a nice switch for a change; if it were Nat Turner's narrative, he most certainly would die at the end, but the revenge he takes on his oppressors that would lead to his death, would probably be much sweeter); and just as he's about to be dealt what would be a fatal blow, there's an interruption that immediately halts the action, and saves him; it turns out that our antagonists instead have what they feel is an even better idea for his demise - an idea that, as you can guess, is far more elaborate than simply pulling a trigger or slicing his throat, which would instantly kill him. The end. But no... they have to get creative with plotting our hero, Django's end. And of course, it backfires on them, and you can fill in the blanks after that. You'd think that, by now, movie villains would've learned that, when you have your nemesis (the film's hero) in your grasp, don't let him/her go. End it then! Don't dance, giving him/her the opportunity to escape from your grasp (unless it's a game you love to play); just pull the trigger and end it. When that happened in the film, I just scoffed at it, and laughed. Of course THAT thing that we know so well about Hollywood movies, happens! It's too damn predictable, and like I said, felt lazy, and I was surprised QT actually went with that rather soft, lame choice. Surprise me!

This article is related to: Django Unchained, Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx


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