My review of Django Unchained:
The “s” word has been shunned in Hollywood for a long time now, it’s almost as taboo and harsh as the dreaded “n” word itself; which has made for a lot of vilification of Quentin Tarantino’s latest spaghetti western, or southern as he’d prefer, Django Unchained.
Slavery is nothing to joke about, it’s a point in our history that we’d all wish wouldn’t have happened like many other unspeakable acts that have taken place. But if you’re not going to take what Tarantino did as a form of entertainment then don’t bother watching this. If you’re expecting a factual representation of the cotton fields and genocide of slavery then this isn’t your film.
What Django Unchained really is, is a story of two bounty hunters who become partners and search for their bounties along with Django’s wife, all under the backdrop of 1858 America.
This is obviously a Tarantino film through and through and he never lets you forget about it. From the over the top blood splatter to the hilarious scene of the KKK wardrobe malfunctions, Django Unchained is filled with scenes we’ll be talking about for years to come much like with Pulp Fiction.
We open to four slaves trekking through Texas when a German dentist riding in a horse drawn buggy, stops them in hopes that they could help him identify the location of the men he’s looking for. During the opening questionnaire he discovers that one of the slaves in line knows what the Brittle brothers looks like and intends to buy him for his services. And thus the start of a beautiful friendship of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) begins.
The two become quite fond of each other as Schultz dazzles Django with guns and the English language all while letting him roam free unlike any black man at this time. This dynamic-duo of Waltz and Foxx are buddy cops in a comedy before such a thing even existed. As their friendship grows and the Brittle brothers are brought to justice, Dr. Schultz makes an offer to Django saying if they partner up for the winter as bounty hunters, when the ice melts he will help Django try to rescue his wife Broomhilda.
The two are peas in a pod; probably the most enjoyable part of the film is seeing these two in action, form a bond and kinship. As the winter fades and the two have made money – it’s time to go get Django’s wife. A trip to Tennessee leads to information of Broomhilda’s whereabouts at “CandieLand” the plantation owned by the evil Monsieur Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Candie is a mean slave owner who takes pride in his property; always seen smoking, his yellow teeth are always on display as DiCaprio’s Cheshire cat smile looms large in the face of darkness.
We’re further introduced to a wild house slave in charge while Candie is away, Steven, played by the diabolical, shrewd and fast-tongued Samuel L. Jackson. His disdain for Django being free and prancing about like a white man sets off alarms that further lead to drama at the plantation.
Tarantino shows off his skills throughout the film with an impeccable script that turns an uncomfortable subject into one of hilarity. He does so by not exploiting slavery but instead use it as a vehicle for Django to prove everyone wrong. In a time where the social norm was for blacks to be in chains and shackles, Django is a free man, running around killing whites for money. This shifts the balance of power and as Django says when asked to be a bounty hunter: “what’s not to like.” It allows for harsh dialogue and crude jokes about a touchy subject, some may be too ashamed to laugh, but when you look around the theater everyone will be joining you.
This was the first Tarantino film without Sally Menke, who passed away in 2010 and it unfortunately showed. The film at a robust 165 minutes is far too long and begins to grow tiring late in its second act. It could have easily been trimmed 20-30 minutes and had a greater effect on the audience. During the first 90 minutes I really stopped myself and thought this was one of the best films of the year, up until that point, hoping it wouldn’t tank as the second act approached. That being said, my only other real issue with the film was the dramatic change in tones starting in hour two. The film goes from a wild, fun, hilarious, best-QT-film-ever, to a very serious, messy and muddled finale that really loses it’s spunk from the first half of the film.
Anchored by the best music of any film in 2012, the titular Django theme song by Luis Bacalov is one you’ll want to play over-and-over and I for one hope it wins an Oscar, it’s that damn infectious. From Rick Ross to James Brown to Tupac; Tarantino finds a way to insert them all into the medley of Django and amplify his scenes ten fold.
Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz is one of the funniest characters Tarantino has ever come up with. This German bounty hunter has such a sense of humor that he can laugh in the face of bullet holes and stickups. It’s as enjoyable of a supporting role as you’ll see all year; I won’t be surprised if he gets nominated for an Oscar. In fact, you can make a case for Leonardo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx as well to get nods in the best supporting actor category as all three were off the charts. DiCaprio is clearly entering new grounds with this role and it’s one that will stand out and be talked about for his entire career. It’s refreshing no doubt.
With Foxx, this is the role that I feel catapults him from known name to Hollywood star, if not superstar. With an upcoming mega role in The Amazing Spider-Man sequel as Electro, Django Unchained should showcase his versatility to the masses and allow a nationwide audience to soak in his skills. And next year when he dons the super suit we can all point at his work as Django as the launching point of his stardom.
This is QT’s finest work in over 20 years as copious amounts of blood soak the ground that Django walks on. While the violence is a staple of Tarantino’s, Django is bound by more then just guns and the notion of slavery. It’s the colorful lead characters, timely cameos and a script that while verbose balances off colored humor with a kick-*** time.