We Want Action: Django Unchained (2012) & Gangster Squad (2013)

django unchained I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films. I certainly don’t like all of his movies equally — Jackie Brown and Death Proof don’t really do it for me — but I rank the rest of them in the Awesome category. Reservoir Dogs was my first and still one of my all time favorite films, Pulp Fiction is a classic, Kill Bill is both an amazing homage and also a brilliant bit of bloody goodness and Inglourious Basterds is so wonderful I can still write the title correctly. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t reviewed any of his other movies here on the blog, but I think part of that stems from the idea that a lot of ink has already been spilled on Tarantino’s career and I’ve found that some things are just so close to my heart that I don’t want to write about them. Sometimes you just want to keep something for your self.

I thought about skipping a review for Django Unchained, Tarantino’s first western, but after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to dive in a bit. If you haven’t seen the movie, do it. It bummed me out that I had to wait as long as I did to see this movie, but that’s what happens when you have a kid and no babysitter. The story revolves around bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buying slave Django (Jamie Foxx) in an effort to track down a particular bounty. Along the way, Schultz trains Django to become a bounty hunter and the pair become friends to the point where Django tells King that he wants to track down his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) a plantation owner who gets his kicks from watching slaves beat each other to death.

Considering the setting and the director, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting with this movie and it’s truly not for the faint of heart. Even I was impressed with how much blood was spilled in this film, mostly through old school gunfights and a few fights. And, as you’ve probably heard, the language is very of-the-time which translates into “incredibly racist.”

But the real heart of the story revolves around a man taking advantage of every opportunity to find the love of his life. He’ll act like a slave trader himself, he’ll kill people, he’ll play nice with the man who enslaved his wife. But, when the chips are down and it’s time to pull through, Django does everything he can to achieve his goal. Foxx does a terrific job in his role as does, well, everyone else in the whole movie. As you can expect there’s some touchy areas here, but everyone really commits to their parts and Tarantino directed them deftly. All around, Tarantino once again shows how good he can be at taking a genre he loves, mixing in his own sensibilities and even his own take on history and creating something that’s both emotionally satisfying and also fun to watch.

gangster squad poster Gangster Squad also takes viewers to a time in our country’s past and features a heckuva hero. This time we’re in 1949 LA which has been overrun with gangsters like Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). But there’s still a few good cops around like Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who’s a heard headed justice seeker unafraid to mix it up with the bad guys in an effort to keep his city safe. The police chief (Nick Nolte) realizes this and offers him a chance to go after Cohen and company, but only off the books. O’Mara puts a team together that includes guys played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovonni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick who do just that.

The film, directed Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), is actually based on real life events from the time, but, of course, punched up for more Hollywood goodness. Emma Stone plays both sides of the fence as one of Cohen’s regular lady friends and faling for Gosling’s character (who can blame her). The story bobs and weaves around, actually taking on a lot of the same story beats seen in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (a longtime favorite of mine, gotta check out that Blu-ray).

As I noted in this week’s episode of the Pop Poppa Nap Cast, posted over on my dad blog Pop Poppa, I really appreciated the bravery these men exemplified in their attempts to clean up the city. O’Mara’s the kind of classic hero we don’t see much of anymore. He does the right thing because it’s right and good and the only gain he gets out of it is the ability to live in a better world…assuming he doesn’t get killed along the way. All the other guys on the squad have similar motivations, wanting to make the world a better place for their kids, the people in their neighborhood and the like. They’re real, old school heroes who also happen to look and talk slick, shoot well and fight even better. Once again that mix of heart and action really gets me. It also helps that this movie is freaking gorgeous and looks amazing on Blu-ray, as did Django though I didn’t mention above.

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