Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012)

   Quentin Tarantino's glowing salute to the spaghetti Westerns of old, Django Unchained continues the undying saga of Tarantino films being every bit as daring, entertaining and wildly controversial. This was my most anticipated movie of last year and, after finally seeing it, I feel that the wait was well worth it. This is another brilliant star in the director's pantheon.

    This film explores several themes from past Tarantino films: exploitation, revenge, and violence. And violence it has. Particularly in the penultimate shoot out where a pristine plantation manor's white walls are soon painted an orangey-red. Or the scene where DiCaprio's sadistic character, Calvin Candie, unleashes a pack of dogs onto a runaway slave. Or a castration scene. Or several more shoot outs. Let it be said, though, that the film is more than just a bloodbath. After all, it's Tarantino. There are bound to be more facets to the story than originally expected. There is a love story (which admittedly I felt was not handled like I wanted it to. More on that later). There is a man who would nobly do anything for his wife. There is a solid friendship formed between Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz, and Jamie Foxx's enslaved Django. And that relationship is the best handled relationship in the whole movie, something I consider a minor flaw given that the driving force of the story is Django's quest to free his wife.

Foxx and Waltz, as has been mentioned in several reviews, have strong chemistry together. Their scenes together are heart-warming. However, Django and his wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, are not given the chance to truly show their chemistry. That to me is the only flaw in the film. I did not see much spark in their relationship. I did not see anything that would plausibly give away Django and Dr. Schultz's plans to Broomhilda's captors when we the viewers did not get any glimpse into their relationship, their connection, or their emotions for each other. What are the captors seeing that I am not? This is an instance where the film tells instead of shows. What we do get are flashbacks to the reason for their separation and Django occasionally hallucinating about Broomhilda. A man willing to go that far for a woman must really love her. Risking your life for the woman you love must signify a strong and loving relationship. Those emotional aspects of Django and Broomhilda's relationship are, unfortunately, left largely unexplored. Thankfully, Kerry Washington does a formidable job of making Broomhilda as relatable and as tragic of a character as her given material would otherwise not have allowed her; she cloaks my issue with the film with what is flawless acting. And trust me, it's a very minor issue (do not let this paragraph deter you from seeing this film). The actors all help Tarantino hoist the film up to new heights. Thank Victoria Thomas for perfectly casting the actors.

And what an outstanding cast it is indeed. Leonardo DiCaprio nails his role of the sadistic plantation owner, with polite manners covering an excitable temper and manic personality. His performance is unpredictable and leaves one on edge; but it also possesses a sort of comical approach. Samuel L. Jackson is simply disgusting and vile as Stephen, an "Uncle Tom" sort of character. Jamie Foxx is given a role that is admittedly one-note. He is out for revenge. In a way, I rooted for Django more because of circumstances than because I was able to relate to him as a person. This does not, however, constitute a flaw. Foxx makes the most of his character and delivers just what is needed of him. He is the core of the film and he lets the better-fleshed-out characters do their thing. The entire cast nails their roles, from James Remar as the lurking bodyguard to Miriam F. Glover as a slave with a Southern brawl. Franco Nero, the original Django from the original spaghetti Western, also makes an appearance where he asks Django his name and whether he knows how to spell it. That's Tarantino for you. Somebody had to have made background research on the film to get the underlying meaning of that scene. But, as a lot of people did not, that Frank Nero scene mad me realize that it is pure Tarantino genius. He's a man who does not make movies only for the masses; he also makes them for himself. Tarantino remains a cinephile at heart, taking pieces of cinema here and there, stitching them together and weaving them into a new fabric reminiscent of the originals but standing all on its own. And that's what Django Unchained is. It's a mixture of different film genres, a blend that works extraordinarily well.
Just the major players in a stellar cast (Source: Just Jared)
Django Unchained makes us take a look at the abominations of slavery. But, it neither preaches nor melodramatizes the facts. Rather, in his usual way, Tarantino has fun with the material without treating it too light-heartedly. This is most evident in a KKK attack scene. Trust me, when you get to that section of the film, you will be laughing your heart. In true Tarantino fashion, he then seamlessly reels the scene back onto the main mood of the film. The film is not without its detractors over what they deem as the overusage of the "n" word and Tarantino covering up a dark part of our history with humor. I will not reject their arguments, but still encourage anybody to first see the film before making any snap judgement. I'm very much still aboard the Tarantino train and would rank this film amongst his very best, which pretty much includes all of his movies thus far. The man has yet to have a misstep. Django Unchained is further testament to that legacy.

Ludovico Rating:

4 1/2 out of 5 stars. This movie is very near perfect and already due for a rewatch!


  1. nice write up on an amazing film. You know I had not really thought about it till I read your review but I would have to agree that the relationship between Django and Broomhilda did not seem to have much spark.

    1. Thank you for commenting. I'm not shocked that you didn't notice it since the rest of the film is so strong that it makes up for it.