Addressing Controversy: Django Unchained.

I’ve really been enjoying watching some new movies in recent days. By no means do I consider myself to be Roger Ebert. Or even Leonard Maltin. Or Richard Roeper— I forgot about that guy! But I’d like to review a movie today. So let’s get to it.

Like most Americans, I’ll admit that I’m attracted to controversy. And Django Unchained, the new movie from Quentin Tarantino, has drawn plenty. Spike Lee found the film offensive and has called for a boycott. And the chief controversy-monger himself, the Rev. Al Sharpton, has also weighed in— but not as much about the film as the action figures it has spawned. Like most controversy, some of this is warranted, while some is designed to further the names and careers of those yelling, “controversy!”

220px-Django_Unchained_PosterI know right now that I’m going to take some heat for this— but, I’ve never been much of a fan of Quentin Tarantino. Hell, when I was watching American Idol and he popped up as a “mentor,” at first I said, “who the hell is this weird-looking molester?” And then, after I learned who he was, I thought, “well, why the hell is he on a singing contest?!?”

Here is the thing: I just don’t enjoy movies that are heavy on the insanely over-the-top blood. And more blood. And then some more blood. I have my eyes shut for half of the damn film, in most cases. Correct me if I’m wrong: but haven’t all of his movies been shoot ’em up blood festivals?

Now, I have to admit: Django Unchained may have changed my mind about Mr. Tarantino. I’m going to promise the lovers of his movies that I will go back and re-watch his films sooner rather than later. Opinions change as time passes… so we shall see.

The run-up to the release of Django Unchained left me slightly uncomfortable. I’m a daily visitor to the Drudge Report. And Drudge was pushing the storyline that this film did nothing but offer the gratuitous use of the “n-word,” dripping in blood. At one point, Drudge had a flash over his screen that simply said, “N****R, N****R, N****R, N****R, N****R, N****R!” I surely wasn’t interesting in seeing or supporting a film that was set to blow apart any questionable progress made in race relations in this country. Take a look at Drudge’s screen, that was purely meant to inflame:

Screen Shot 2013-01-10 at 5.18.06 AMAfter watching the movie, I can attest that Drudge was just trying to cause trouble. Remember above, when I talked about the controversy-generators who know that controversy is good for their careers? Matt Drudge can resort to this trick from time-to-time.

The use of the “n-word,” while occurring often, didn’t seem over-the-top. This movie was set in the years leading up to the Civil War, so the use of this language seemed like it would fit the historical timeframe. If you’re easily offended or a politically correct crazy freak— don’t watch the movie. You will be offended. Simple as that.

I was particularly impressed with the acting of both lead roles. Jamie Foxx, an actor that I held much respect for until his recent ‘Barack-Obama-is-our-lord-and-savior’ outburst, was quite believable in his role as slave-turned-bounty-hunter. And Christoph Waltz added a dose of subtle humor with his portrayal as Dr. Schultz, dentist-turned-bounty-hunter. I can see why Tarantino supposedly designed the character especially for Waltz, who previously has won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar after working with Tarantino on Inglourious Basterds.

Perhaps most impressive, though, was Samuel L. Jackson, who starred as “house n****r” Stephen. How effective was his acting job? I didn’t even know it was Jackson until the credits rolled. After going back for review, it’s not that I didn’t recognize him, but his character was so compelling that I never felt the need to question it. And that, my friend, is what acting is. His character is so complex— it really is— and Jackson lets you see that. As a slave, one would think that the slave owner has the power. However, a few scenes after Stephen is introduced, he almost grabs the power away from his owner, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

So is Djano Unchained an accurately presented historical Western? No. Is it a parody of Westerns that you and I are familiar with? No. What it does accomplish is this: the film takes a unique look at the relationship between a black slave and his white friend and it compares that to the relationship between a black slave and his white owner. Interesting stuff, indeed.

Yes, I could have done without that one scene, in particular, with all that blood splattering everywhere—- when you see it, you’ll know it. But I’m willing to look past that for the stunning acting jobs— and the way the movie made my brain work just a little bit, with a smile on my face.

 

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