Django Unchained (2012) Rated R, Dir: Quentin Tarantino
This film is currently playing in theaters.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained takes place in the deep south before the American Civil War, where two bounty hunters, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx), a former slave freed by Schultz to help him nab some wanted bandits, go on a search to find Django’s wife, who is under the hands of Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio), a ruthless plantation owner.
I am a Tarantino fan, or more specifically, a fan of his films. They’re tongue-in-cheek, full of irony, and quite clever in playing with established movie conventions. Tarantino loves playing with the genres that he knows so well, and adds a playful twist to each one. This “twist” is what turns what otherwise could be called a rip-off into an homage. His films are never a repeat of a joke, but a joke with an added twist. His previous film, Inglourious Basterds, which admittedly is a hard one to beat, certainly to this reviewer, pushed the idea of a historical war genre to its extreme conclusion, even changing major historical events. If genre is really about taking stylistic liberties, that film did it.
Django Unchained, which is Tarantino’s take on Spaghetti Westerns (or “Southerns” as he calls it) isn’t quite as bold or accomplished or as complete as that film. With that said, let me add that the acting in this film is marvelous. Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz with great aplomb and likeability with the complex and rich dialogue given him. The dialogue in this film is pure gold in many cases. Leonardo Di Caprio’s great turn as the articulate, evil villain pretty much could be the main reason to watch this film. He is deliriously bad and he really throws himself into this villainous character, greatly helped by the excellent dialogue.
Jamie Foxx’s role, however, doesn’t quite reach the level as the other major players. Admittedly, he is a quiet character, and somewhat single-minded. This film, like Kill Bill, is ultimately a revenge movie and Django is somewhat typical of that genre. He isn’t quite as complex or as likeable as Waltz’s quirky Doctor Schultz (who is a dentist by the way) or Di Caprio’s Calvin. One of the problems, to this reviewer, is the fact that unlike Waltz’s character, Django doesn’t appear to be as principled or particularly honorable. Tarantino films used to deal with themes like honor (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), but I felt the character of Django appeared to be acting mostly on self-interest and rather cold unlike the more gentleman-like (maybe altruistic) Doctor Schultz.
The action comes furious and in violent spurts as expected from Tarantino. I’ve noticed a good number of John-Woo influenced scenes, particularly in the indoor shootouts. (“Ah! I remember that move!” I would mutter, geekily) The whole quick-draw shootouts are quite Sergio Leone. I realized I kind of missed that.
If there’s one thing one can say without any doubt, it is that there aren’t other films that are quite like this one playing in theaters. That is not to say this is a great film, or that it is a masterpiece in any sense. There are great scenes, though. And, great dialogue in certain parts that I wished the overall plot was worked on a little more to make it perfect. Or, I might be being picky (then it wouldn’t be a true Tarantino’s film after all). As for the subject matter, this is essentially a genre film that just happens to take place during the time of slavery. It is a rough subject to tackle, and many of the characters are often split into bad guys and good guys. Unfortunately Django (who I think we’re supposed to root for) just seem equally shady without the complexity needed for me to sympathize with. Maybe it is because he is following the requirements of the part for that genre. I’m not sure.
MY RATING: *** out of **** stars