Quentin Tarantino returned to theaters this Christmas with another gory, vulgar and hilarious film: Django Unchained. The director, known for such classics as Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds has moved onto the spaghetti western genre with a very powerful take on southern slavery in 1858. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained follows two bounty hunters as the look to rescue a slave from the inhabitants of an evil slave owner. You can watch the trailer and read my review bellow.
Quentin Tarantino has been one of my favourite directors ever since the first time I watched Pulp Fiction, so I was very excited to see this movie. And although I did like it and do recommend it, I have to say it is not as good as some of his past classics. This movie has everything Tarantino fans have come to expect (and love) from his movies, lots of blood, lots of swearing and Samuel L. Jackson. But I felt like it was just those elements from Pulp Fiction and especially Inglourious Basterds just superimposed upon a western setting. With this criticism, it makes it difficult to review. It is still a great movie. Just not as great as some of his other works.
I’ll start with the story. Tarantino writes his own scripts and he did so for this one too. The dialogue is very quick and very funny, with the same style of absurdity Basterds had. Only Tarantino would question the size of the eye holes on KKK masks and create a hilarious 10-minute scene from that “issue”. Also like Basterds, Tarantino takes a sensitive historic issue and shines light on how stupid people used to be. Lose people are the white slave owners, mostly represented by Leonardo DiCaprio and slightly less by Don Johnson, who are really confident men who could never comprehend equal rights for blacks. Tarantino has no problem including the word “negro” in his script and although it is shocking to here at first, but I have to say the story would significantly less effective if it wasn’t there, regardless of how bad slavery was.
I also liked how Tarantino treated the hero, Django himself. When we first meet him, Django is a slave who had just been sold again and separated from his wife. He is beat up but can’t do anything about it because he lacks basic education and wouldn’t know what to do with his freedom. But with the help of Waltz’s Dr.King Schultz, Django becomes a bounty hunter and his growth as a man is very clear. By the third act, Django is the smartest man on-screen and watching him learn and change is amazing.
That leads me to the acting, which is always a key for me in movies. I like to be able to believe an actor when they are performing. And this is one of the best cast of the year. Maybe not as good as Les Miserables or Silver Linings Playbook, but the five stars all play their parts really well.
Jamie Foxx plays Django and he sells the characters strengths and weaknesses very well. At the beginning, when he is still a slave, Foxx looks beat up and weak, yet still has the physical build of someone who has spent long hours at work. And then he cleans up and begins to interact with people who want him dead, which is when he really shines. He doesn’t have much to say, with Waltz doing most of the talking, but his expressions say more than he could ever speak. He wants to rescue his wife and hates white people, which are both emotions Foxx clearly represents on his face throughout the movie. And it makes the character stronger and in the audience, you want him to be successful.
Foxx’s scenes with Kerry Washington are also good. She plays his wife, Broomhilda, and the emotional connection between the couple is very well acted. Washington doesn’t get much screen time, and her character is supposed to be timid, but she holds her own when called upon.
Christoph Waltz got his first big break in Inglourious Basterds as Nazi Hans Landa, a role that won him an Oscar. Tarantino wisely brought the German actor back for Django, this time playing Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter and the only non-racist white man in the movie. Here Waltz gets to show his nice side and he doesn’t miss a beat. He is an actor who fits the Tarantino style of storytelling. He handles all the long speeches and fast dialogue superbly, and he has a lot to say; essentially speaking for both himself and Django for the first half of the film.
Oddly, his characters from Basterds and Django look similar, with the only difference really being the clothes. But their personalities are very different. Schultz is constantly calling out people when they are racist, and when he is forced to communicate in the lingo of the slave trade, his voice is constantly mocking the absurdity of the act. Few actors have the talent to play the complex role that is Dr. Schultz. I wouldn’t be surprised if Waltz gets an Oscar nomination for the role.
One person that is all but guaranteed an Oscar nomination (and possibly his first win) is Leonardo DiCaprio as the slave owner, Calvin Candie. Although he doesn’t show up until at least 90 minutes in, and is only around for about an hour, DiCaprio commands the screen whenever he is on it. Of his past roles, the closest I could think of for a comparison was that of Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me if You Can. But Candie is closer to Javier Bardem in Skyfall or Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. It is a terrifying, yet exciting role; very evil yet still extremely well acted.
DiCaprio is far from the heart-throb that his female fans love in this movie. He is a racist, a murder and a selfish man, who lacks basic humanity genes. And you can tell DiCaprio had fun playing this very different role. He is introduced as a man who prefers to be called Monsieur Candie, but doesn’t like it if you speak french to him since he can’t speak it and becomes embarrassed. That says all that needs to be said about him; he is very out spoken and funny, but also powerful and evil. Like Bardem and Ledger’s characters, Candie is a man who enjoys being evil, like an addiction. For those reasons, Candie competes with Waltz’s Landa as Tarantino’s best villain.
Samuel L. Jackson plays Candie’s head slave, Stephen, in his fifth Tarantino film. Although black and a slave, Stephen is completely loyal to his master which makes him almost as scary as Candie himself. Jackson and DiCaprio have a pivotal scene where the talent both actors have is out in full force. I won’t spoil it, but do know that Jackson handles the dialogue given to him just as well as he does in his other Tarantino roles. He doesn’t have enough to do to earn an Oscar nomination, he is more a supporter to the supporting cast, but he does play the role well. And he swears just as much as he does in Pulp Fiction which some fans will like.
Like all Tarantino films, this one is very bloody, but this time he chose an interesting dynamic to show the gore. When any important character is shot, the bloody is splattered upon something white. Sometimes its cotton plants, other times a white horse. I am sure it has something to do with the evil that white people mostly represent in the film, but it will be more memorable as a gross but powerful representation of death. Why show a corpse with holes in it, when you can show something more unique and shocking? That’s Tarantino’s style and in this case, it works very well.
The biggest complaint I have with the movie (besides it not being as good as his other work) is that Django Unchained is too long. I didn’t look at my watch, but did think to myself while sitting there, “it must be almost done now” when there was at least 40 minutes left. But the odd thing is I can’t think of any scenes I would take out. The characters develop from everything that happens on-screen; there really isn’t any scene that doesn’t lead to something else. He could probably shorten the montages, but other wise, I was happy with the way it ended and the way all the characters stories ended.
That is why Tarantino is one of my favourite directors. His movies are so extreme, they become fun. You know what you are watching is insane, but you don’t care because it is so awesome and different. Even though this might not be his best work, Django still has everything a Tarantino fan likes about his movie. And it is still a great movie in its own right.