Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
It’s often been said that Quentin Tarantino doesn’t make movies, but rather, he remakes them, in his own image, thereby creating a unique, if not a brand new template by which to measure the genre. With Django, he tackles a spaghetti western as only he can, by including a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), a freed slave (Jamie Foxx), a sadistic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his loyal house slave (Samuel L. Jackson). Toss in a bucket load (quite literally) of violence and excellent dialogue, and you’ve got a film that isn’t afraid to tread uneasy water with a smile (and blood) on its face. We’ve seen flourishes of the genre’s influence before, be it in Kill Bill Vol. II or Inglorious Basterds, but this is his definitive western, through and through. When I read the script about two years ago, the characters and dialogue, as to be expected, lept off the page, and unlike his previous films, I couldn’t quite figure out how he’d pull it off from page to screen. Rest assured however, that every actor absolutely relishes in his part, and the performances only elevate the film to a level I never expected.
With Waltz, Tarantino has found the perfect vehicle (second only to perhaps Sam Jackson) who can take his words and render them almost poetic in their delivery. While similar Foxx doesn’t have much to say, but through close ups and wide shots, Django’s eyes do much of the talking. DiCaprio deserves the highest honor in my book, for nailing a part that is quite literally batshit crazy at times, and has no template, not to mention it completely goes against type for him. A special shout out of Sam Jackson, who I can’t recall devouring a role like this in some time. Nowhere is the issue of slavery, and racism, so brilliantly conveyed, than in the relationship between DiCaprio and Jackson, and likewise, Jackson’s view on Foxx and Waltz. Poor Kerry Washington, despite being an exceptional actor, has very little to do other than stand around (quite literally) looking pretty as the damsel in distress. Sure, she’s the motivation, but I would’ve liked to see more scenes with her and Foxx at the helm.
This just leaves the often imitated, but never duplicated, Quentin Tarantino. It’s hard to deny that the man has impeccable vision, and does everything in his power to do right by it, from the casting, right down to the musical cues. This isn’t a film that just anyone could’ve made, even with the script in hand. There’s a passion for the material, a real labor of love, that only he can get across, because make no mistake; even given the subject matter, this is an entertaining flick. You’ll find yourself smiling, squirming, and just being in awe at what transpires on screen, because no matter what you think you know, or how you feel, this film will turn that upside down and make you feel and think differently.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Mark Boal
Cinematography by: Greig Fraser
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke,
Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler, James Gandolfini
I remember writing, back when The Hurt Locker came out, that there wasn’t another film that year, that made me sit at the edge of my seat, simply observing such an intimate and intricate situation unfold around a group of people. I didn’t expect any less from the next film from screenwriter/director duo Mark Boal/Kathryn Bigelow (respectively) when I heard it was going to be about the CIA’s decade long battle in trying to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. Rest assured, I was not disappointed. This film is every bit as intricate, intimate, and immensely detailed, if not more so, than Hurt Locker. In fact, I’d say Renner’s character in Locker and Chastain’s character of Maya here have a lot in common, in that that they both couldn’t possibly see themselves doing anything but what they’re doing. This hunt for bin Laden is her entire life, and when it finally comes time to take him out at a compound in Pakistan, as an audience, you’re right there with her. If I had to compare her to another cinematic character, I’d say the film plays very much like David Fincher’s Zodiac, in following a story that spans years, and a character looking to find some solace, some justice, and some justification in what he/she is trying to accomplish, to the point of becoming obsessed.
Jessica Chastain has been impressing me with every film she decides to take on, but this one is hers and hers alone to carry, despite the various, and often times excellent, supporting cast, consisting of Kyle Chandler, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt, James Gandolfini, Mark Duplass, among many more. This film lives and breathes the environment it presents at every turn, and I’ll be honest, for those not entirely familiar with the history (myself included), there’s a lot to take in, be it names, information, events, etc. The film doesn’t slow down in that regard, but in doing so, it displays the full scope, the highs, the lows, the mistakes, the missteps, the outright failures, as well as the successes of the work that went into the task at hand. Chastain’s Maya handles it all pitch perfectly, and you’ll forget you’re even watching a film.
Kathryn Bigelow, I’ll admit, was not on my rader pre-Hurt Locker. Yes, I’ve seen Point Break, but as far as I’m concerned, Hurt was a revival of a career perhaps long in the making. She presents material in sometimes the most simplistic way, but as an audience, you still get the complexities behind it. The same can be said of Mark Boal, as this is his third written feature (and second with Bigelow), and yet, he handles the subject matter with such expertise, capturing governemnt bureaucracy at its absolute worst, even when it’s poised to shine with the capture of bin Laden–an event, that as close as it may have brought a grieving nation together a decade later, and it is obviously a huge moment in the film’s final half, was still not a sure fire yes or no, or even fully agreed upon decision for that matter. It’s a film that will stand the test of time, because it dared to step up and just show, and not tell, and allow us to think and feel what we will of it.
History changed. History made. They truly don’t make ‘em like this anymore.