Quentin Tarantino is a renowned writer and director. He has legions of diehard fans the world over, numerous awards for his work, and he dabbles in various genre’s. He is a visionary, but for me, he is also hit or miss.
I absolutely love Reservoir Dogs, I enjoyed Kill Bill Vol 2 and I adore his collaborative work with friend/Director Robert Rodriguez on Four Rooms and Grindhouse…but I also think Pulp Fiction is kind of overrated, and Kill Bill Vol 1 and Inglourious Basterds weren’t exactly my cups of tea either.
So when I first heard about Django Unchained I was immediately intrigued by its premise, but also hesitant to get too excited for another Tarantino film. My excitement began to rise however when Christoph Waltz (the best part of Basterds) signed on and then I was immediately sold when Leonardo DiCaprio was announced to be playing the main antagonist. I was going to pay for a ticket to another Tarantino film, he got me again. But which kind of Tarantino film would it be?
The answer to that is, a great one!
Of course reviews were stellar for Django before release, as they usually are for Quentin’s movies, but I am happy to say Django was also a treat for me. This is one of the more entertaining Tarantino films in a long time. Django has many of the same characteristics as his other films: Strong dialogue, stylistic shots, solid soundtrack and a small dose of exploitation films. But what makes Django so special is it manages to blend all of these ingredients into its pot far better than any of his recent work. It also doesn’t hurt that the cast assembled here is completely fantastic.
From the films opening sequence its apparent Django Unchained is a love letter to the western, from the font used and the shots taken Django oozes style, then it quickly becomes apparent that Django is also a Tarantino film. The first conversation that takes place within the film is also one of its finest. From the moment Waltz’s character Dr. King Schultz appears on screen he demands attention. The way Waltz carries his character and effortlessly spews his lines its a wonder how this man isn’t a bigger star. Within the first five minutes I knew I was going to dig Django.
The story told in Unchained is a revenge tale, one that see’s the title character bought and subsequently freed by a bounty hunter named Schultz after he assists him with a target. The two than go about finding and freeing Django’s wife who is now owned by a vicious southern farmer named Calvin Candie, played by the always excellent DiCaprio.
The simple premise is given extra weight by its setting. The film is peppered with horrific acts of cruelty towards blacks and it helps to give Django’s mission more weight, as well as pushes you to root for this incredible underdog. Tarantino doesn’t shy away from the violence within Django, which is also one of its downsides, but I’ll get to that later. The first hour of the film is training and learning who these two men are, the second introduces audiences to DiCaprio’s Candie, and also the second top notch performance of the film.
When Christoph and Leonardo are on screen together its like two showman doing battle. Both are at the top of their game here and their incredible performances lead up to one of the most intense and exciting scenes throughout the entire film. When DiCaprio finally unleashes hell as Candie it is a sight to behold, and as someone who has been dying to see him portray a villain…I demand more! Next to these two juggernauts it may be easy to overlook Foxx as the titular Django, but his portrayal too is a strong one. While Waltz and DiCaprio dazzle with their dialogue however, Foxx commands the audiences attention with his demeanor. While Foxx gets lines, he gets far less than the other major actors on screen. Also, Django is supposed to come off rather weak and scarred, so when he does speak, it is not attention grabbing until much later in the film. With these weaknesses Foxx manages to express far more with his posture and facial expressions then he ever could with his words. This is a strong performance by him that is slightly overshadowed by the larger players in the game.
While the film features amazing performances, solid writing, good action and even some great laughs mixed in with the shocking images; there are two faults I had with the film, one of which is the gore. Now I don’t have a problem with gruesome acts or scenes, my gripe is more with how Tarantino uses such things in Django. Each round from a gun is fitted with a rather large amount of bodily fluid leaving the body in Unchained, now I don’t shoot guns, so I of course am no expert, but the shots in here come off as more cartoonish than realistic, and one scene in particular stuck out at me like a sore thumb. One of the bigger action set pieces in Django happens towards the end of the film, and it reminded me of a certain final showdown in Kill Bill Vol 1, that I also strongly disliked. The amount of gore that is on display during this gunfight would make Vampires keel over from excitement.
The other aspect of the film that irked me is the performance from Samuel L. Jackson. Now Jackson’s performance has been praised by many critics but to me he came off both forced…and as just being Jackson, which seems weird when I write it out like that. Jackson’s Stephen is eccentric, hateful and also every character Jackson plays. The dialogue doesn’t seem written for a unique character, it just seems like Tarantino just said “have at it Samuel” and Jackson delivered the same vulgar lines and delivery that he’s been riding on for years now. Its made a shame even more due to the large amount of screen time Jackson gets in the final act.
These two issues, which can be seen as nitpicks by some, are not nearly enough to hamper this excellent film however. The final act in particular is a glorious power trip that should have you giddy with excitement as Django and the audience can finally breath a sigh of relief. Tarantino has managed to craft one of his most fun films in years, and the fact that it takes place amongst such horrible acts of cruelty makes it even more of an achievement. Django goes from one strong scene to the next, and rarely falters while doing so, making it one of the best films of 2012.