Two radically different films set in 1860’s America, one from mainstream populist director Steven Spielberg concerns the career of President Abraham Lincoln and “Django Unchained” is a typically no holds barred view of slavery from bete noir of the Liberal Elite Quentin Tarentino.
Jamie Foxx plays Django a slave turned bounty hunter pitted against the wily combination of slave trader played by Leonardo Di Caprio and his black assistant played with wonderful cussidness by Samuel L. Jackson. A man on a mission, Django will stop at nothing and is fuelled by a hatred of the absolute depravity that can only exist when human beings turn on each other with supremacy in mind. The themes at play leak into the holocaust and 21st century genocides.
This is where Tarentino’s approach to violence comes into it’s own. He is oft criticised for over doing the gore, amidst allegations of pornographisation of the baser side of human behaviour. What a load of rubbish. With this film Tarentino is showing the absolute degradation that is slavery. Making one set of humans total and utter masters of another to the extent that it’s acceptable behaviour to torture, maim and kill with impunity should be horrible and uncomfortable to watch.
I applaud the fact that you feel the terror of a man being ripped up by dogs, and that being shot in the knee causes screamingly unbearable pain. You hear the bullets rip into the flesh. These NRA nutters need to hear and see just what guns turned on humans can end up like in the real world.
The use of the N word has caused a fuss. But that’s what it was like at the time and to sanitise would be false history . But for me the best thing the director did in the film was a send up of the Klan on their way to a lynching. Camping it up, Tarentino shows just what a bunch of inadequates these racist thugs were, and indeed are when you consider the EDL and the such like.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Lincoln and as an acting performance it was, as you would expect from the Irishman, first class in every aspect. The problem is that Day Lewis isn’t exactly NBA material on the height front, and given Lincoln was, at 6’7 the tallest incumbent of the White House I was distracted by how they made him tower over his fellow cast members. Some deal in stacked heels and imaginative camera angles.
One myth regarding Lincoln and his fellow Northern Civil War allies is that they were solely motivated by altruism and a moral fervour to abolish slavery. Whilst this may well have been the case to a degree with some of the protagonists, the brutal fact is that the South was gaining an advantage over the North economically as they had minimal labour costs, and this Capitalist necessity was the main driving force for the North to impose abolition. Un surprisingly Spielberg neglected to mention this.
The main problem for me was that the plot is driven by a cliffhanger, and as I was au fait, along with many in the audience with the outcome, the suspense element wasn’t there.
In addition the story of Lincoln’s assassination was skated over, and there was too much moralising without explanation of the context of the slave trade.
Django Unchained is a total tour de force and Lincoln is distinctly average in my humble opinion.