Django Unchained, Review

Three hours of Tarantino having the time of his life. The Tarantino faithful are going to LOVE this. It is likely to drive everyone else nuts.

The Weinstein Company
180 Mins. Dir. By: Quentin Tarantino with
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio

With everything he’s presented to the world, Quentin Tarantino has fed his audiences a vision of what he grew up adoring. Injecting aspects of the Spaghetti Western into all of his films, he’s finally sat down and pumped out his own full length version of the genre. Sticking with his style over substance persona, Tarantino does something with Django Unchained that he’s never really done before–he made a comedy.

Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a bounty hunter on the lookout for a big score. The only problem is he has no idea who his next targets look like. Getting word that a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), recently sold at auction nearby, once “worked” on a plantation for the three brothers he is in search of, Schultz spares no expense freeing Django in hopes the now free slave will help hunt the men down. Noticing that Django has a natural talent for the bounty hunting business, Schultz offers up a deal. If Django teams up with Schultz through the winter, collecting bounties, he’ll help Django rescue his wife from the evil Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio); owner of theCandieLand plantation. Leaving a wake of blood, guts and exploding genitalia; nothing will stop Django from saving his love.

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One might think there’s nothing funny left that could be done with a story about slavery. Comedians have had plenty of jokes and skits on the subject; but a three hour, star studded, box office draw? Django Unchained doesn’t shy away from its morbid bits and tragic background, but it battles through the world’s preconceived notions by sticking to two simple principles; empower Django at all times and lay on the laughs. Mel Brooks once commented on his obsessive use of Hitler in his films saying, ” …by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths.” While I don’t think Django Unchained was aiming to send a specific message about the era, it certainly uses its humor to augment the viewer’s experience of sitting through such a long tale set against a shameful backdrop. Still, it does directly poke and prod some of history’s most unsavory groups.

Many people think Inglorious Basterds is Tarantino’s best film, even believing the film’s final line of dialogue was Tarantino’s own admission that he agrees. Django Unchained silently proves that theory to be correct. Pulling out all the stops from casting, outrageous deaths and the touchy subject matter; it’s obvious that Tarantino was out to have some fun and nothing else. From Bruce Dern to Franco Nero (the actor who played Django in the film the script was first inspired by), almost every role is played by a big name, some of them literally background actors. With music from the original Django, scoring master/Spaghetti Western musical legend Ennio Morricone and an assortment of rap from Rick Ross to Kayne; Django Unchained is Tarantino’s playground and Santa (Harvey Weinstein) let him have any toy he wanted.

There are a myriad of tiny inconsistencies one can nit pick through that register in my mind, but may not in other’s. A small pistol can cause a fountain of blood to pour out of a man in one second, but later, at the same distance, it hardly makes a dent. By the time Django and Schultz are ready to approachCandieLand, they’ve built up quite a reputation. It may have taken longer for word to travel across the country in the 1800s with no one able to jump on Facebook to post on their wall about a German dentist and a freed slave taking heads for bounty; but with the reaction Django gets from simply riding a horse, you’d think the nation would be aware of this pair’s deeds. Yet, Candie and company have no clue as to who they are and are easily duped by the duo’s elaborate scheme.

Jamie Foxx’s Django is unchained in more than just the literal sense.  He’s a wild card whose emotions bubble up at the mere mention of his wife. Foxx has his moments of unabashed glee and foolishness, but apart from the title alone, Django is the unshakable, serious cog of the film. Leonardo DiCaprio surely had fun playing the dastardly Monsieur Candie (as he likes to be called) but as always, there are times–be it less often here–that he loses his accent. Once again, Christoph Waltz is the most interesting character on screen. Not so much for his performance, though it is fun, but because Schultz presents an interesting dichotomy of a man who willingly kills for money with no quarrels, but squeamishly can’t handle the true horrors that exist around him. For me, Tarantino’s works may have always lacked a certain level of substance, but Schultz as a character offers a lot of opportunity for great chatter about how we still view our society’s  faulty past and present.

Django Unchained has everything it takes to be a crowd pleaser, yet, it doesn’t all come together in the end.  I laughed harder during the “Klansman” hood argument scene than I have at any other movie this year, but I’m still bothered by the film’s pacing that starts out with a bang, but fizzles in the movie’s Lord of the Rings-style, multiple ending points. The events of the first half of the film are necessary to develop the story, but could have been shortened by 45 minutes and still had the same impact. Where long story development played an important part in previous Tarantino films, it just tacked on more time for no reason here.

Film length worries people more than it should. If a film is paced well and draws an audience in, the time will fly by, but I understand a 180 minute running time will shock many. Django Unchained does drag at times, but it moves smoother than any other Tarantino film or any three hour long film for that matter. I’ve sat through 90 minute features that had me banging my head against the wall as if I was stuck in my seat for five hours, but I never felt trapped by Django Unchained’s lengthy presentation.

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I’m a tough customer to please, but the Tarantino faithful will be thrilled beyond belief by the time the lights come up and similarly awed by the slight pull away from his previous films that Tarantino enacts. Unchained is the perfect word to describe everything about this movie; it’s out there and completely unapologetic in every way. It will drive people crazy.

Grade: B
Rating: 80/100