Published on July 22nd, 2013 | by Allan Brown7
Django Unchained Review
Movie Review: Django Unchained (2013)
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson, kerry Washington
Plot: Django a former slave sets out with his companion / tutor / bounty hunter to rescue his wife from an twisted Mississippi land owner.
It’s safe to say Writer / Producer / Director Quentin Tarantino has had a huge impact on film over the past two decades. Although only on his 8th feature he has successfully managed to create his own niche in the industry by refusing to be constrained with traditional methods of both filmmaking and storytelling. He has and continues to successfully cross genres whilst infusing them with his own brand of dark satirical humour, stylistic opulent comic book violence and slick dialogue that is unmistakably Tarantino.
His unique and original screenplays that often pay homage to by- gone genres (Blaxploitation, Grindhouse , Spaghetti Western) are clear influences throughout his work and have won him countless awards and accolades in the process from Oscars to The Palme d’Or. For many his movies offer a fresh, bold and exciting escape pushing the envelope of what is acceptable in western cinema. As a result this has generated him a huge cult following over his career with both critics and the public alike but has also put him in the firing line of many a heated and publicised debate, most recently with Channel 4 news presenter and journalist “kristian guru murthy”
(see video below)
Now after the critical success of 2009’s “Inglorious Basterds” comes the directors 8th project and immediate follow up, Ladies and Gentlemen I give you “Django Unchained”.
The story takes place in 1858, 2 years before the American Civil War and follows the charismatic Dr King Schultz (Christopher Waltz), a dentist turned bounty hunter who is on a mission to assassinate a trio of known criminals. On this intrepid cross-country journey he teams up with slave Django (Jamie Foxx) whom he apprehends by murdering his masters, as investigations have led him to understand Django is someone who can identify the targets in question. Schultz agrees to both grant Django his legal freedom and to help him rescue his beloved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of a brutal Mississippi plantation owner named Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) in exchange for his assistance in completing an assortment of bounty missions over the winter.
Django like inglorious plays out as a giant homage to Spaghetti Westerns and is peppered with nods to the genre throughout. Although both are original Tarantino screenplays they share the same titles as movies from the 60s and 70s and even though they bare little resemble in structure or story it is clear to see they are direct influences. Django not only shares the same title as “Sergio Corbucci’s” 1966 Western but also various themes from its soundtrack are complimented as well as a small cameo from the movies lead ‘Franco Nero’.
In essence Django keeps in step with the Inglorious structure. In fact it would be more accurate to say it’s almost a carbon copy of its predecessor. Both are almost identical in tone, both are period pieces, both are stories about a people’s oppression, both are revenge pictures and both are played in the vein of ‘Spaghetti Western’ movies. Just move the action back about ninety years and move it from France to America. Hire the same pivotal character. Add sharp, witty dialogue, stylistic violence and deliver the blood…… and there you have it. “Djang-lorious Basterds Unchained”
So has Quentin Tarantino’s pen finally run dry? The important issue of racism (and his favourite motivation – revenge) is the spine of “Django Unchained” and although the story is visualised though the genre of “Blaxplotation and Spaghetti Western cinema” it does not excuse it from lacking any fluidity as a complete film. Scenes feel patched together, overly episodic and do not allow for a complete convincing story.
Has Tarantino fallen victim to his own ego by listening to the hype and lost the ability to just tell a good story?
For me at least, the director’s own brand of satire that runs through every films from “Reservoir Dogs” to “Django” is more than a little tired. To some he has essentially made the same movie over and over again only repackaging it differently, either by era or genre.
While witty sparkling dialogue and stylistic violence is the staple of Tarantino’s work, here his usual strategy feels overdone and self indulgent. Alongside the absence of substance: there are far too many endings, one too many shootouts, a few too many bad guys and worst of all, we never really get to know the lead Django or his “damsel in distress” who is dealt with so flimsily we never form any real attachment to her. Emotional maturity or lack of it is something that has been missing from the director’s movies from the get go and although his characters are great fun to watch play off each other their lack of passion ultimately leaves them un-relatable.
That said “Django Unchained” is great fun as all Tarantino films are. His virtuoso technique, cinematography and all round look of the film is unmatched as is the screenplay that oozes wit and charm. The soundtrack although not what you might expect from a traditional period piece drives the film forward proudly with everything from John Legend to 2 Pac, complementing the movie perfectly as a blaxploitation picture ultimately celebrating black power. There are a few issues with pacing and editing but these can be forgiven for the sheer joy of the performances on screen.
It’s true that Django Unchained’s true merit and something that Tarantino does right every single time is cast the right actors. Waltz once again plays the supporting role (although at times feels more like the lead) boasting a magnetic charisma as the logical marshal and maps his character out through comical verbal jousts. Foxx, in contrast, expertly understates Django balancing out Schultz’s more flamboyant moments. DiCaprio arguably gives the performance of his career as the despicable yet captivating landowner ‘Calvin J. Candie’. Samuel L. Jackson also deserves further note for his terrific portrayal as Candie’s self-loathing black slave supervisor ‘Stephen’ who has an unshakable allegiance to his master despite the sincerely shocking treatment of his people.
There are many cameos’ peppered throughout, some of which are prominent whilst others seem shoe horned in for the sake of a cameo, and none more so than the director’s which is unnecessary, distracting and cringe worthy.
Summary: Django Unchained is overlong, disjointed and full of self-indulgence. However with all its shortcomings it remains a hilarious, fun, wildly entertaining and often exceptional movie that boasts some sensational performances.