You aren’t a critic worth your salt if you haven’t seen the majority of Quentin Tarantino’s films, even the not-so-great ones. He is one of the most prolific directors of this generation, who mixes a love of high brow cinema with some more “vulgar” sensibilities, making his films a unique brand of storytelling that is engaging, but hard to emulate. So, when it was time to pick a movie to watch on Christmas Day, the choice was obvious.
So let’s sit back, relax, and spend this merry little holiday watching people running around in period clothes and with blood flying everywhere. This is Django Unchained.
Yes, I know, I promised that December was going to explore not-terrible Christmas horror movies, but come on, can you blame me? No one can resist a Tarantino movie – I’m not made of stone!
The plot is fairly simple; Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, frees a slave named Django, played by Jamie Foxx, in 1858 Texas. Together they work as bounty hunters and go on a mission to save Django’s wife, Broomehilda, played by Kerry Washington. She belong to the incredibly ridiculous Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, whose right hand man Sebastian, played by Samuel L. Jackson, isn’t the simple slave he seems. I fit all those names in the plot synopsis somehow, but there’s way too many characters to count and identify.
Waltz basically steals the movie, by being the most charismatic on screen as the German bounty hunter. There’s no question he’ll probably be in another of Tarantino’s movie, for how well they work together. Foxx is all right, not as badass as I would have hoped. But as a team, they actually work really well, with Waltz playing off of Foxx deadpan seriousness with his own strange jubilance. They make a great duo, which makes me wonder if Foxx got the part just through their great chemistry (as well as his chemistry with Kerry Washington).
DiCaprio does not nearly get enough screen time as the petulant boy-leader of “Candie-Land,” though he certainly wasn’t as overly camp as the trailers led me to believe. As a villain, Calvin Candie is pretty tame as far as it goes, and poses no major threat alone, which I thought was pretty interesting to see. After all, most of Tarantino’s villains are these terrifying men and women who would cut you as soon as look at you. But Calvin’s a simpleton, a weakling, a man who only gains the upper-hand because someone else told him what to do – he’s earned nothing, achieved nothing. Jackson is actually a really creepy presence, since he’s apparently the real brains of the operation (or so we’re left to assume). The one who really won over my heart was Kerry Washington, who gave the best, and maybe shortest, performance of her career. She’s not on screen for long, but her suffering feels real, her expressions are full of subtle emotions – there is no one else I could see playing her part, which is not something I can say for the rest of the cast.
The biggest problem with the movie is also it’s biggest achievement. What Tarantino is best at, what he does better than almost any other director, is emulating styles of bygone eras of film. Old samurai movies, pulp stories, and now spaghetti westerns. He even got the ugly fonts and time jumps right. And as much fake blood as he could fit in a single feature length film (mind you, there’s a lot of gore in this film so be aware if you are squeamish). Here’s the thing though – spaghetti western fell out of fashion for a reason, and that reason was that they weren’t very good. The pacing is choppy as all hell, concurrent with the style, and it makes the movie feel way too short, with lots of points when I thought the movie would be over only to have it continue. It felt disjointed, and the narrative would have worked better if they has fleshed out the transitions a little bit more, rather than the sloppy, cut up manner they used. Honestly, Tarantino, sometimes old doesn’t equal good.
The film looks marvelous, with big sweeping landscapes, stretching across the Southern U.S, and the costuming designs work well with the historical set pieces. One of the aspects I love most of the film is in fact the sets – the houses, bars, and fields are lavish and gorgeous, each pain-stakingly designed and shot. If anything, I would rewatch the film just to take a closer look at the scenery, which should only be admired in the cinema in large scale.
This movie has stirred up a lot of controversy going around about its portrayal of American slavery, and I wouldn’t be doing the film service if I didn’t address it. Some people are unhappy about the way slavery is used as subject matter in an ultra gory mostly-not-serious blockbuster. Others don’t like the depiction of whites as two-dimensional caricatures of evil. For me, I can see both points of the two sides but I don’t take either. It’s a tough subject matter and it deserves to be treated with respect, but I’m in no position to speculate on whether the film does or doesn’t. If you feel like this is a movie that may or will offend you, I recommend you not go see it, simple as that. If you’re not sure, there’s no harm in seeing it for yourself and making an informed opinion.
In the end, Django Unchained may not be Tarantino’s best, but it’s certainly not his worst. It’s a difficult to say to what degree I enjoyed this movie, but I did indeed enjoy it. I would highly recommend to anyone who loves westerns, Tarantino, or who just wants to see a good movie. Just be aware of what you’re seeing before you sit down to see it.
– Great acting.
– Gore EVERYWHERE.
– Feels like a real spaghetti western.
– Copies the spaghetti western style a little too close.
– Feels too short at points.