The next in my series of Oscar nominees I’m playing catch-up with is Quentin Tarantino‘s most recent effort, Django Unchained.
Part Spaghetti Western, part Blaxploitation, and a hundred percent Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained is an over the top tale of racism, violence, slavery, and love.
Jamie Foxx is Django, an exceptionally talented and intelligent slave in the deep south, just prior to the Civil War. When he’s needed to identify his former overseers for a Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), German dentist-turned Bounty Hunter, he finds himself not only a free man, but a man being paid to kill white folks. “What’s not to like?” Schultz, in a turn from Waltz’s previous Tarantino roll, abhors the mistreatment of people and takes a liking to Django, promising to help him track down and free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who had been sold away from him. Eventually that mission leads them to the home of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) where they face off against him and his posse, including a particularly detestable loyal house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
Django Unchained has Tarantino’s recognizable fingerprints all over it, starting from the opening scene which involves some blood spurts rivaling Monty Python’s Black Knight. Language and violence abound, though his typical habit of long monologues about very little seems to be absent. Jamie Foxx is perfect, playing his part with a quick wit and calm control as well as just enough self awareness to make the unlikely character work. Waltz, in a thoroughly deserved supporting role is always likable, always fascinating, and just a little crazy. DiCaprio plays the hateful antagonist with relish and will surely make many a best villain list throughout the years. Samuel L. Jackson is Samuel L. Jackson, even managing to throw his favorite phrase out there a few times even though I don’t think “mammajamma” was typically used in the 1860’s.
My harshest criticism would the length of the movie. I enjoy a sprawling story, but there were times that I wondered just how much of the sprawl was really necessary in this instance. It never became too much that I became bored between the good stuff, but there were a couple times I came close the crossing that line.
Is this movie racist? Yes. But so was the time it is portraying. Is it exploitative? Yes. But isn’t every war film, in the same way, exploiting terrible events in history for the entertainment of today’s people? I never thought the movie delved into offensive territory, except where duly needed. This movie is extremely offensive to people who are racist and who do terrible things to others. That, you can be sure of. You can also be sure that there is a lot of extreme violence and extreme language. It never feels needless, but please be aware that this movie earns its R rating ten times over.
If it wasn’t for some plodding throughout, over extending the story more than necessary, this would probably be a solid five out of five. As it is, it’s a finely crafted movie that feels fresh, original, and full of character. It’s going to make some noise at the Oscars.
Mrs. Hamster Says:
“If you don’t mind blood splurting everywhere, the actors’ performances are eccentric and entertaining – but they could have cut an hour.”