Django Unchained - Review
Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter, buys a slave known as Django and gives him his freedom. The two strike a connection and become partners for the winter, providing Django with an opportunity to become a lethally accurate and fast shot with a gun.
I saw Django Unchained last night. It’s been my most anticipated film of the year since I saw the trailer in July, upsetting The Hobbit. It was a spectacular trailer to do that, because I’ve been following The Hobbit since early 2011. Usually I’ll look at a trailer, and if it does the job right and catches my attention, I will go see the movie. But I never let myself form an opinion on the film beforehand. I didn’t do that for The Dark Knight Rises, or Skyfall, or Looper. However, this was a trailer that was so good that I could almost smell the movie itself being just as fantastic. So when I walked into that cinema, I was expecting something amazing.
Director Quentin Tarantino has served up yet another masterpiece – not surprising, considering that my least favourite Tarantino film, Jackie Brown, is still far better than many films I’ve seen.
The setting, the south western United States before the American Civil War, is one I always enjoy if done right. The “western” genre has also been one of my favourite genres to watch. It feels like this film was made by Tarantino just to say “Merry Christmas” to me, because it stuffs so many things that I enjoy about film together and does it right.
Django is portrayed brilliantly by Jamie Foxx, both for the brief few minutes we see him as a slave and throughout the entire movie afterward as a free man. It was very fun to watch him turn from being an unsure free man ready to serve Christopher Waltz’s character into a confident, bounty hunting partner of Waltz’s character. In his relentless pursuit of these white men, Django throws himself so wholeheartedly into it that Schultz calls him the fastest gun in the south. It was interesting to watch as Django slowly developed as the main character throughout the film, and while he does some pretty nasty stuff in the finale, he retains his humanity.
Waltz as Dr. King Schultz is a joy to behold, and was the highlight of the film whenever onscreen. Waltz has a way of acting that I really enjoy (his character Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds stole that show, too) and I hope to see him in another film soon. Schultz shows up with some very fancy language in the beginning, combined with his own accent and unique way of speaking that allowed me to immediately latch onto the character. Although he is confident and knowledgeable early in the film, we are shown that Schultz is still very human – his German legend about Broomhilda, his anti-slavery view, and numerous shots of him being unable to watch actions taken against slaves in Candieland. Schultz is the character of the film, and Waltz did everything right with the role.
Leonardo DiCaprio as the antagonist Calvin Candie was also superb, as a brutal, conniving plantation owner. It was very interesting to watch as Candie allowed Django to talk smack about anything and everything (all thanks to a possible 12, 000 dollar deal) before the ruse was detected, and the allowances he was willing to make for Django and Schultz as well. I also enjoyed the scene between Candie and the head slave Stephen (played by Samuel L. Jackson), who had realized the ruse of Django and Schultz and reveals it to him then and there… leading to everything falling apart for our two protagonists.
As Tarantino films tend to do, the film does jump a little bit between different periods of time between Django’s past and Django’s present, but not as much as Resevoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. However, I think it works to the benefit of Django Unchained because, to put it bluntly, the only thing that matters about the past is the whipping of Django’s wife. Once we’re past that, we don’t need to know anything else – all that matters is the here-and-now Django story. So that’s what we get. Django Unchained is still filled with Tarantino staples – blood is everywhere, we get some disturbing scenes (such as a slave being eaten alive by dogs), and people being absolutely ridden with bullets. Tarantino himself cameos as a slave drive that’s shot while carrying dynamite… I’ll let you imagine the rest of that.
The soundtrack is upbeat and delivers exactly as any Tarantino soundtrack should – by pulling in very out of place songs and making them fit. There’s one scene where we get a rap song that would usually only fit in with a bad modern comedy movie. The song shouldn’t fit into this “southern” scene at all, but this is Tarantino, and he makes it fit. However, the soundtrack also manages to fit in several western sounding songs, and let’s be honest here; society needs more songs like that.
If I have one complaint about the film aside from some small nitpicks (there’s a scene towards the end where Django shoots someone from an angle and they go flying in a straight line backwards), it’s the lack of screen time that the winter bounty hunting segment is given. We see Django and Schultz go up to the mountains, see a bit of Django training, and see his first bounty – and then the film skips ahead to spring, when Django and Scultz infiltrate Candieland. The film is almost three hours long as it is, and Tarantino mentioned they actually considered splitting the film into two volumes like Kill Bill, so perhaps cuts were made to that segment in order to keep the runtime down. That said, an extended version on Blu-Ray would be very welcome.
Suffice it to say that Django Unchain didn’t just meet my lofty expectations for it – the movie exceeded them. Where it fits in terms of the rest of Tarantino’s films I’ll have to decide later, but this is easily one of my favourite films of 2012 thus far. If you haven’t seen Django Unchained yet, correct that mistake immediately.
I hope to see both The Hobbit and Les Miserables by New Years; if I manage it, both will be reviewed.