Review: Django Unchained (2012)

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DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino.

CAST: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, James Remar, Laura Cayouette, Don Johnson.

SYNOPSIS: When German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) promises Django (Foxx) his freedom on the capture of the villainous Brittle brothers, the slave finds the perfect opportunity to search for his lost wife, Broomhilda (Washington). When their paths cross plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), the pair must make a choice between sacrifice and survival.

More sprawling, cross-country epic than nonstop, gun blazing shootout, Django Unchained is a perfect marriage of slave story and spaghetti western that allows Tarantino to make the most of his signature anachronistic embellishments. Reeking of 70s panache from the opening old-school Columbia insignia, the combination of mashed-up soundtrack, obvious homages and riotous one-liners easily coalesce in a film that necessitates multiple viewings.

He may be the film’s titular character, but Django is not all about Django. Though Waltz and DiCaprio eclipse him, Foxx does indeed fill his enormous, contemporary cowboy boots, with the 165 minute running time lending itself to Django’s development from beaten and subservient slave to empowered and indomitable bounty hunter. Foxx’s stance and body language say more than words will allow on introduction, but his fancy pants gun tricks and burning love for his leading lady make him a multifaceted character you long to see in more adventures with his fellow partner in crime.

With Christoph Waltz present for much of Django’s literary conception, the script retains a surprising amount of reality. With Waltz’s second role for the director even more fun than his first, the actor is outstanding as the dentist-cum-bounty hunter whose eloquence and etiquette are as impressive as his wily ways and quick draw abilities. But it is DiCaprio as the devilishly delicious Calvin Candie who leaves the biggest impression. The most fun he’s ever been onscreen and delivering incredible force in scenes of accusation and tension, the Mandingo loving, serpentine plantation owner is an absolute pleasure to watch.

Some of the events Django lets unfold under Candie’s watch may be unforgiveable, but the slave envisages his quest to have only one end. Far from the nauseating damsel in distress, Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda is undeniably worth fighting for, with effective montages of her being tortured before her husband and the palpable strength and weight of their emotions ensuring she always feels worthy of the fight.

The struggle within is about more than just a husband’s pursuit of his wife, with the continual use of the N-word suffused in history as opposed to shock tactics and lazy Blaxploitation. And, though some characters end up feeling forgotten or dropped amongst the cameos and underused supporting players, thankfully Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen gets enough screen time to threaten to steal the show – and beg to be paired with The Help’s Minny Jackson.

Comedy lends itself brilliantly to the pre-Candyland opening third (a scene with the pre-KKK Regulators will surely stand as one of 2013’s funniest), but the ending is in need of a little fine-tuning, even if it does give you the magnificent, wild shootout you were hoping for.

Django Unchained may have buckets of style – hey, even the horses have swagger – but it will leave most Tarantino fans gasping for a little something extra. Though you will wish there had been more trimming in the editing room before the finale threatens to get a little too Butch Cassidy, you get exactly what you expect from a Tarantino film; quick-fire intelligent dialogue, plenty of blood splattering and a ridiculously distracting directorial cameo.

VERDICT: 4/5

Django Unchained is in UK cinemas now.

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10 responses to “Review: Django Unchained (2012)

  1. GREAT point about the ending!! I felt like something was missing.. or could’ve been written better! And of all the cameo’s I thought this was Quintin’s best! Pulp Fiction, he stuck out like a thumb, but Django it was subtle. And definitely agree about Leo’s performance, one of his best! Great Review!!

    -Devin

    • Thanks for commenting, Devin. I don’t agree about QT’s subtlety in regards to his cameo, but he definitely has less to say this time around! And yes, Leo is on top form here.

  2. Great review, personally I didn’t once think of the length when I was watching it, but it’s definitely closer to the Inglorious Basterds style of very long ‘vignette’ scenes rather than your usual narrative ones in some of his other films.

    • Length never bothers me, but something didn’t sit quite right in regards to the ‘djeja vu’ return, you know? But don’t get me wrong, I loved it! Thank you for reading and commenting, Matt.

      • I do know what you mean, it did seem like a bit of retreading the same ground. P.S. Resisting the temptation to “That’s what she said” your reply’s first line.

  3. Oh, Matthew… Django’s theme is my new ringtone, however.

  4. That scene with the pre-KKK Regulators, haha so funny 😀

  5. Brilliant analysis… one that’s in sync with my understanding of the movie!!! Tarantino has always quite cheeky when it comes depiction of power in his movies… but here he is absolutely sublime. He achieves something that’s seldom been achieved in contemporary cinema. I wish the upcoming breed of filmmakers would be more keen on emulating his kind of cinema.

    Also, please do checkout my review of Django Unchained:

    http://www.apotpourriofvestiges.com/2013/01/django-unchained-2012-american.html

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