“Django Unchained” Movie Review

Not only is it set in the Old West, but it’s the first official “southern.” Released worldwide on Christmas of 2012, this American revisionist Western soon became writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s highest-grossing movie, with a total intake of about $425 million at the box office. Continuing his streak of critically-acclaimed epics, the film also earned 5 Academy Award nominations and remains in the top 60 highest rated films of all time according to IMDb. A highly stylized tribute to Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960’s, the R-rated story follows a slave named Django, played by Jamie Foxx, in the Deep South during the Antebellum period. After being freed from captivity by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, he is shown the ropes of handling fights and taking down targets. They agree to free Django’s wife, Broomhilda, from a sadistic and selfish slave owner. Django Unchained marks a departure for Tarantino in a few different areas. Namely, this is his first attempt at a straightforward genre movie, when his previous works have combined many tones and genres into a single movie. Following the success of his 2009 war thriller Inglorious Basterds, much of the narrative is told in chronological order, with the exception of a couple flashbacks that illustrate what’s relevant about Django’s backstory. Jamie Foxx is an excellent choice for the titular protagonist. It’s very engaging to watch him grow from a really shy, timid slave to a gun-wielding badass. Like a scene where he’s told by Schultz that he can wear whatever he wants, followed by a smash-cut to him dressed in a bright blue French valet suit. Not to discredit him, but the fantastic supporting cast steals the spotlight from right under him. In particular, Christoph Waltz follows up his incredible breakout with another stellar performance that won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Almost the complete opposite from Col. Hans Landa, he bears all of the kind traits of mentorship and courage that you would want out of a hero. As the character with the most lines of dialogue, for all intents and purposes, he carried a large passage of the movie. Despite being entirely absent for the first hour and a half, Leonardo DiCaprio is simply stunning as the main antagonist. A major departure from his previous roles, Calvin J. Candie has no redeeming qualities; extremely racist, hot-tempered, and sees all other people as toys. DiCaprio was apparently so off-put by the character, that he hesitated to deliver some of the film’s many N-words. But he gave in, injuring his hand in the now-famous dinner scene and delivering one of the more impressive examples of on-screen improvisation. Continuing his nearly two-decade long relationship with the auteur, Samuel L. Jackson costars as an Uncle Tom-like, decrepit house slave, who is utterly indifferent to the suffering of his own people everywhere. Watching one of my favorite actors dropping F-bombs while hobbling around on a cane is nothing short of enjoyable, even if his character seemed to lack 3 dimensions. While it may sound that this is a completely dark experience, one of the most enjoyable aspects of a Quentin Tarantino film is that he never takes himself too seriously. His Oscar-winning screenplay is loaded with his trademarks of brilliantly written dialogue and highly stylized violence. One scene sees a group of Ku Klux Klan-like hate mongers arguing over bags that can’t fit their eyes, just before committing a raid on our protagonists. This is a moment we would normally be afraid of, but instead is nothing short of hilarious and unexpectedly quotable. And yes, like the rest of his filmography, Django Unchained is an extremely violent movie. The gun battles between slave owners and bounty hunters are exciting, with ridiculous amounts of blood gushing from the bullet wounds as men are getting wasted. It gets to be a bit indulgent at times, but watching men flying through the air from a gunshot to the chest does put a smile on my face. As much as I could go on about these individual scenes, it’s the technical side of everything that also impresses me. Robert Richardson’s excellent nominated cinematography contrasts static anamorphic shots with sudden close-ups and zoom-ins. It also brings out the beauty of many different colors, most notably bloody red and bright white cotton in fields. The film is also laced with a deliberately anachronistic soundtrack with songs that truly fit the moment. However, like many of Tarantino’s recent efforts, this film could have definitely been trimmed down, as the story begins to lose sight of itself at the beginning of the final act. It lasts about 2 hours and 45 minutes, which works for the most part. Except for a cameo from the director himself very late in the film, which felt like a completely shoehorned excuse for him to say N-words and get away with it. Thankfully, he’s taken care of quickly, and the pacing comes roaring back in the last 10 to 15 minutes of the movie. Despite those pacing issues, and some “black-and-white” characters, (no pun intended) Django Unchained is still a supremely entertaining and satisfying Western adventure. A damn fun time, it’s hard to think of a film from 2012, aside from The Avengers and Skyfall, that I enjoyed watching more. Easily one of Tarantino’s best films.

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