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Film Review: Django Unchained

Django UnchainedWhilst Lincoln examines the subject of slavery from a historical point of view, Django Unchained comes at it with a much more bombastic, satirical approach. But would you expect anything less from Quentin Tarantino, the man who has a penchant for the elaborate and whose last film, the superb Inglorious Basterds, rewrote World War II with Adolf Hitler being machine-gunned down in a movie theatre?

Django Unchained has a linear, single-story narrative, which is somewhat of a departure for Tarantino, and tells the tale of freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to free his wife from the clutches of vile plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

It’s difficult to pigeon hole any of Tarantino’s movies and this one is no exception. At face value it seems like a western, but even Tarantino himself doesn’t refer to it as that, instead calling it a “southern”. Despite that, there’s plenty more at play here, as is Tarantino’s inclination to beg, borrow and steal from just about every corner of the movie world; at the heart of the film is part buddy movie, part love story.

The staple Tarantino elements are all there: over the top violence, contemporary soundtrack, and oodles of witty dialogue. However, none of that dialogue would mean anything without some stellar performances to pull it off, and there are plenty of those here.

Christoph Waltz is, once again, imperious, his knack for making the grittiest of dialogue sound like beautiful poetry is a real joy to behold. Samuel L Jackson also shows that given the right material he can own a part unlike any other as the equally hilarious and abhorrent slave Steven. It’s Leo Dicaprio, however, who really stands out. Calvin Candie marks the first time DiCaprio has played the bad guy and he does it with true menace and complete and utter conviction. Jamie Foxx on the other hand as the titular Django doesn’t quite have the same screen presence as his co-stars. Too often he’s overshadowed and doesn’t have the conviction and bite the role requires.

One thing that the film does suffer from is a running time that’s about 30 minutes too long. There simply isn’t enough story there to warrant such length and there are a number of scenes which wouldn’t have been missed if they’d been left on the cutting room floor. There is a much neater, more succinct film in there somewhere but Tarantino seems to allow a little too much self-indulgence at times.

The theme of slavery getting the Tarantino treatment may not sit right with some and this is indeed thin ice the director is walking at times (casual use of the ‘N-word’ is rife throughout), but he never falls through it. Above all things, Django Unchained is a hell of a lot of fun and shows a further willingness to explore serious subject matter but in the only way he knows how.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film review: Carnage

It’s not that often that you can pinpoint the source of a film. Obviously there are some films you know are based on books or plays, but if you had absolutely no knowledge of that film whatsoever, its origins might prove a little more difficult to ascertain. However, Carnage is so obviously based on a play that it might as well have curtains rise before it starts.

It’s an incredibly simple story: two couples gets together to discuss a fight that has broke out between their sons. What starts off as a relatively amicable meeting soon descends into chaos as tensions run high, each couple refuses to accept their child was responsible and there’s a particularly nasty case of vomiting from her that was in Titanic.


Plot-wise there isn’t much more to it than that. It is little more than a series of uncomfortable and awkward scenes, set in ‘real-time’, as these ‘normal’ suburban families are slowly revealed to be a facade; a mass of insecurities and flaws that they do their utmost to hide away. Its theatrical roots (Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage) are plain to see: the film is set in a single apartment, often in one room, and features just four characters of equal billing; it’s all very straightforward. Very much a character examination, there’s no exuberance and no pazzaz, except for a well-written script and impressive performances.

The two couples are of very different backgrounds – Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslett) are the upper end of middle class, with their smarter clothes and higher powered jobs, whilst Michael and Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) are at the other end, with their modest apartment and what would be perceived more regular jobs. However, the film makes the point that all these characters are flawed in some way regardless of their backgrounds and that they inevitably end up acting no better than their children. In fact, their children are nothing more than a sub plot to the parents’ games of oneupmanship and desire to appear superior.

Carnage is director Roman Polanski’s Bunuel-esque attack on the middle class (that Alan and Nancy seem unable to leave the apartment harks back to The Exterminating Angel) as neither of the families come out of the film with any kind of redeeming qualities. They place far too much importance on trivial things, whether it be fancy art books or the ingredients of a cobbler. They don’t really seem that concerned with addressing the real issue of their fighting children; Alan spends most of his time on the phone, Nancy seems more preoccupied with Michael’s treatment of the family hamster, Penelope constantly tries to out-Cowan the Cowans, and Michael (for the most part) is happy to just go along with whatever.

With such a simple story and location, there is nothing to hide behind and in a film such as Carnage, the actors are under greater pressure to pull superior performances out of the bag. In this case they are moderately successful, but it is the males who really stand out. Both John C Reilly and Christoph Waltz outshine their female counterparts with impressive performances that keep the film ticking along. Both female characters are somewhat less inspiring, and Jodie Foster in particular can be a little hammy at times. Despite that, the quartet work well together and they do well with a script that has peaks and troughs; it can sometimes get a little slow but overall is witty and helps provide an intriguing examination of the characters.

The film has a claustrophobic quality to it, thanks in part to its singular environment, that may not be to everyone’s tastes, but persevere and you’ll find a film that provides a deeper social commentary for those who want to delve into it and a more lighthearted take on relationships and parenting for those who want to take it at face value.

Words: Chris Thomson

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