More on Django Unchained

Django UnchainedI have stated many of my reservations regarding Django Unchained in my review. Regardless of your opinion, it has proven to be a provocative movie. After seeing it for a second time on Boxing Day, here are some of my additional thoughts:

–       One thing I neglected to talk about in my review is how badass Jamie Foxx is in this film, especially with Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio stealing the scenes for much of the movie. Despite not being Tarantino’s first choice for the role, Foxx has proven to be the right man. The speech he gave at the end of the film is executed (no pun intended) like “shooting a dog in the street,” as one character would say. Will Smith might have done fine (we’ll never know), but Foxx has that edginess and attitude that I don’t see the Fresh Prince (aka Hitch) possess. Can you imagine Morgan Freeman playing the role of Stephen instead of Samuel L. Jackson? (That would actually be interesting.)

–       A second viewing also gave me a chance to pay more attention to the use of music. The Morricone pieces fit swimmingly. Even the original music—a first in a Tarantino flick— is not bad, save for the Rick Ross snoozer that is confusingly out of place given how the tail end of that tough-guy rap song is paired with Django’s daydream vision of his beautiful wife Broomhilda. The James Brown/Tupac remix works fine with the gunfight scene and the John Legend song is tonally in sync with the rest of the soundtrack.

–       The link between slave trade and the bounty business, as described by Waltz’s Schultz, is one of those subtle themes one might miss under the façade of an action fantasy. Tarantino’s capitalist satire is mischievously sly and scathing, as well as relevant to our times. During my second viewing, I could not help but make the connection between Mandingo fighting and today’s sports industry. The way Candie and Schultz talk about the abilities and marketing of the poor devils who beat the shit of out each other to the death is not that far from the soul-crushing commentary I hear from ESPN or any sports radio show—especially near draft day. The way our culture sees athletes as little more than statistics and numbers for our fantasy team or hometown pride is oddly detached from our humanity. I know sports fans will like to remind me that athletes are not slaves but millionaires. But have you watched a football game lately? That is a modern day Mandingo fight. And as diehard Longhorn, I can tell you how heartbreaking it is to see Texas’s great Earl Campbell barely able to walk these days. Let’s also not forget how NFL’s commissioner Roger Goodell embarrassingly tried to pretend the sport is safe by punishing players putting bounties on others and NBA’s David Stern fined a coach for giving his players a day’s rest. Mandingo fights might not be historically accurate, but it is a perfect fable for today’s professional sports.

–       In an interview with MSNBC, Kerry Washington defends the damsel-in-distress plotline amidst some feminist critique by arguing that black women have never been afforded to have the fantasy of being saved by their men and that breaking up the family was one of the tools of oppression in the pre-civil war era. While her claim of Django Unchained as a “modern day feminist story” is quite a stretch, she does have a point though. There aren’t many black heroes in our popular culture and there is an air of innocence in the romance between Django and Broomhilda. And if any male director is to get a pass for making a male-dominant movie, it should be Tarantino. Can’t the guy get a break after giving y’all so many ass-kicking heroines throughout his career?

–       As I mentioned in my review, the crowd at the screening I attended (press plus guests) were laughing raucously after their initial unease settled. But in my second viewing, at Sundance Cinemas in downtown Houston on Boxing Day, the laughter was minimal and the crowd seemed a bit uptight. How could they not laugh when a black man in a ridiculous outfit cracks a whip repeatedly at a racist white man in slow motion?

–       Without spoiling it for you, my favorite line from the film is when Calvin Candie explains the origin of Eskimo Joe’s moniker—so casual yet ridiculous. That’s a Tarantino line for you.

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