Sitting in the theater watching Tarantino's latest film I at one point dreaded the very real possibility that when I eventually sat to do my review I was going to have to talk about racism. This is something rampant in DJANGO UNCHAINED and it seemed like it would be impossible to dodge, irresponsible not to mention or maybe even looked upon as shady not to at least acknowledge. It didn't take long in a short comment I made about the film and its racism that apparently me mentioning it somehow makes me a hypocrite for then saying I loved it. I didn't love it because of the racist elements, which are personality traits of the characters and of the time itself and not of Tarantino as a man or filmmaker. I loved it because the script is hilarious, set pieces are vibrant and interesting and the performances are fantastic.
The film takes place at a time in history when slavery was the norm so it stands to point that you are going to hear lots of extremely racist remarks from the main characters- remarks that personally offend people no matter of its all make believe or not. So it is a fool's errand to sit here and try and view the film from the point of view of someone that would critique the film on that alone since as a viewer, it didn't harm the film for me beyond the fact that my ears hear racist terms and know that they are offensive and politically incorrect. The words Quentin Tarantino has put on the page for Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest of the cast to perform only serve to make a judgment on the character saying them in the context they are saying them and if they are using them to offend or to “blend in.”
DJANGO UNCHAINED is basically a straightforward revenge tale, which might seem a little too simple for someone like Tarantino to tackle and it would be impossible to change the mind of anyone predisposed to repel the filmmaker dipping a few too many times in the well. What I would say to try and persuade someone to change their mind is that Tarantino is a genius with his scripts and if you enjoy his sensibilities as a screenwriter than you would be hard pressed not to be entertained by this film.
A lot of the perceived failings of the film I've heard are all issues I didn't really have an issue with. I enjoyed the camera work, which includes the quick zooms on characters when they enter the frame or turn around- I also loved the music choices and the use of more modern tracks didn't even come close to taking me out of the film. It is true that the film does feel like it goes on too long and features one too many climaxes, but personally would attribute that more to the fact that I really felt the need for a bathroom break but refused to miss one second of the film.
Another staple of Tarantino's films is sudden and graphic bursts of violence which are 100% in tact here and culminating with a final half hour of blood soaked gun battles. Littered around the violence are the filmmaker's trademark scenes of extended dialogue which tend to be a lot like the ones featured in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. However, it's the performances of Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio that really make the screenplay pop and lighten the blow of the film's more racially driven dialogue.
Racism in and of itself is not ripe for comedy (at least for me) so it is extremely easy to see how DJANGO UNCHAINED could be seen as grossly offensive to some. I am not in the business of assessing the accuracy of racism in the 1800's, but I will admit that there is an excess of racial terminology that may be a bit misguided along with some of the editing choices, but regardless of my reservations on that front this is an immensely entertaining film. Lesser Tarantino as this may in fact be is still better than a lot of film's I've seen this year and I very much loved the vast majority of what DJANGO UNCHAINED had in store for me. Popular opinion or not, this may just be my favorite film of 2012.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)