Django Unchained is conflicted Tarantino
Django Unchained ranges from being brilliant, controversial, long and cartoonishly violent. It’s Director/Writer Quentin Tarantino at his best and worse.
When he’s on, Tarantino’s southern western epic about a former slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), partnering with a German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is awesome. It’s original, lively and wickedly funny.
The script is snappy and shot in that winking to the audience manner that only Tarantino can provide like the scene ripping a lynch-mob with their Ku Klux Klan style masks. But when he’s off — like in the film’s tedious middle act — Django is almost begging Tarantino to cut loose and get back to making the over-the-top cinematic experience we’ve come to expect from him.
After helping Schultz hunt outlaws, Django wants to find his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). Foxx and Waltz have an easy chemistry and I’d love to see them reunite on another project. Schultz offers to teach Django the ways of the bounty hunter and helps him track Broomhilda to Candyland. That’s the massive, heavily-armed plantation under the control of the ruthless Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception).
DiCaprio looks to be having a blast. He’s a true a scene-stealer that livens the film’s slower second act. It’s a nice departure from DiCaprio’s common heroic leading man roles.
Django also is a switch from Tarantino though not with the restraint of violence and language. There may be a 30-second gap where someone isn’t uttering the ‘n’ word. Yeah, that’s excessive. During the action scenes, blood gushes and spray like geysers. Instead of a reclamation project (i.e. John Travolta, Pam Grier or David Carradine) Tarantino is working with some of the industry’s hot names.
There’s 2004 Best Actor Oscar winner Foxx (Ray) 2010 Best Supporting Actor Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) and 2007 Best Actor Oscar nominee DiCaprio. Regular Tarantino-collaborator Samuel L. Jackson plays Candie’s faithful house servant, Stephen. Don Johnson has a great cameo as Spencer ‘Big Daddy’ Bennett.
Whether it’s the stacked cast or Tarantino’s tendency to be dialogue overindulgent, the momentum crashes when Django meets Candie. Their scenes have a few great lines. Problem is too much of their interaction feels like needless padding. Django isn’t the kind of film that needs to be 165 minutes. I doubt Tarantino left much on the cutting room floor. A tighter pace would have made this an easy recommendation.
The film’s soundtrack is as diverse as always for a Tarantino film. There’s songs from hip-hop stars 2 Pac and Rick Ross, Italian composer Ennio Morricone and folk rock singer Jim Croce.
Like the film, some of the songs are perfectly timed while others don’t seem to fit the theme very well.
The opening act is great, you’ll need some caffeine to make it through the slow middle section. The final act delivers an explosive payoff with one of my favorite closing monologues in years.
It’s the exact right note to end the film on. Two weeks after I saw it, I’m still reciting lines from it. That proves if nothing else, it’s definitely a memorable film. Django isn’t Tarantino’s best film — Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Inglorious Basterds — still rank higher, but it’s mostly entertaining.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Photo credit: Andrew Cooper/ The Weinstein Company