Quentin Tarantino returns with Django Unchained, but does it match his past masterpieces?
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography by Robert Richardson
Jamie Foxx - Django Freeman
Kerry Washington - Broomhilda
Christoph Waltz - Dr. King Schultz
Samuel L. Jackson - Stephen
Leonardo DiCaprio - Calvin Candie
Laura Cayouette - Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly
Dennis Christopher - Leonide Moguy
Walton Goggins - Billy Crash
Don Johnson - Spencer Gordon Bennett
Tom Wopat - Marshall Gill Tatum
James Remar - Ace Speck & Butch Pooch
James Russo - Dicky Speck
M.C. Gainey - Big John Brittle
Tom Savini - Tracker Cheney
Jonah Hill - Regulator
Michael Bacall - Smitty Bacall
Bruce Dern - Curtis Carrucan
Franco Nero - Amerigo Vasseppi
Runtime: 165 min
MPAA: Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. Official Website
There have been a lot of critics who seem offended at the language, themes and violence of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. It has even brought the ire of a man named Spike Lee, who loves to hear himself talk when discussing other director's work. It seems like years of Hollywood glossing over the slavery era makes a movie that actually shows the racism and violence of the time period offend modern day sensibilities.
Luckily Quentin Tarantino doesn't care who he offends. As a result, Tarantino created one of the best films of 2012 and arguably one of the best of his career. Between this and Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino is a director working at the very top of his game.
The movie starts off with a group of slaves purchased and led, shackled, across Texas. Soon, a former dentist named Dr. King Schultz comes across the group, looking for one specific slave named Django. The reason he wants this slave is because Schultz is a bounty hunter and is looking for three men wanted dead or alive, and Django knows what they look like. He promises Django his freedom and a small sum of money if he helps him find and kill the three men.
This is just the setup and they accomplish this task early in the movie. The basic meat of the movie comes when Shultz hears Django's story. He married the woman he loved, but their slave owner rejected it and sold both of them to two different people. Shultz agrees to help Django find his wife and help them reunite.
The biggest complaint about the movie is the fact that Tarantino uses the "N" word over 100 times in the movie. However, while this is possibly overkill, there is a good argument in the fact that the plantation owners and ranch hands tasked with keeping the slaves subservient used this term all the time. There is no reason to whitewash this horrible era of American history, and Tarantino whitewashes nothing.
It is easy for me to praise Django Unchained. Between his camera work, the intense moments of violence, the Tarantino-esque dialogue, the very funny humor and the great acting there is little room to complain about anything in this movie. The only complaint might be that the movie is about 30 minutes too long, an area that Tarantino always struggles with.
The two standouts in the movie are Christophe Waltz as Dr. Shultz and Leonardo DiCaprio as slave owner Calvin Candie. Waltz won an Oscar for his role in Inglourious Basterds, and he honestly trumps that performance here. Despite his role as a bounty hunter, he remains the moral compass of the story, the man who kills criminals but is repulsed by acts of senseless violence against innocents, in this case the slaves.
DiCaprio is a marvel in this movie. Leo has always been a great actor, but he seems to choose roles that require serious performances. For possibly the first time ever, DiCaprio allows himself to have fun in this role. His slave owner uses his property as entertainment, fighting weapons who will earn him money until they break down or die. While there are a lot of bad guys in this movie, Calvin Candie is the real antagonist to both Shultz and Django. Leo plays him very much over the top, hamming it up for the cameras and turned in the best performance of his career.
Jamie Foxx is Django, and does a solid job as the former slave, turned into a bounty hunting partner of Dr. Shultz. However, there are moments where Foxx drops the ball a bit and are even moments where I involuntarily pictured his In Living Color character Wanda Wayne. It was something he did with his eyes and mannerisms, but it actually took me out of the moment. It also has to be noted that, once Shultz and Candie are out of the story, the movie loses something. That falls on Foxx's shoulders.
The supporting actors were strong and carried their roles perfectly. In one surprising case, Don Johnson clearly knocks his role out of the park and a racist plantation owner and the film's chance to reference the Ku Klux Klan. Johnson was magnificent in his role, and was also part of the movie's funniest scene, where he rides in with the entire town in white sheets and masks. That is also where Jonah Hill gets his cameo and helps break the tension slightly in a movie full of intense scenes. Don Johnson is this movie's John Travolta or Robert Forster, an older, slightly forgotten talent who shines in a Tarantino flick.
Other great performances come from Walton Goggins (The Shield) as a ranch hand, Kerry Washington as Django's wife, Tom Wopat ("The Dukes of Hazzard") as a U.S. Marshall, Bruce Dern, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, Michael Parks and Quentin Tarantino himself, who gets the best death in the entire movie. I also love that Tarantino got the original Django, Franco Nero, to appear in the movie
One area that Tarantino has always specialized in is his music choices, such as in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. Blonde cuts off the police officer's ear to "Stuck in the Middle with You." This movie is no different. The songs range from Jim Croce and John Legend to Johnny Cash, James Brown and 2Pac. It was an eclectic mix of music and really played its own character in the movie.
The violence itself is what you would expect from a Quentin Tarantino movie. He never shies away from blood and has no problem with showing someone getting their guts blown out. There is a lot of death in this movie, mostly from the hands of Django and Shultz. There is also a lot of brutal, gut wrenching violence against the slaves. If you have a weak stomach, this might be too much for you, but then again, you probably don't watch Tarantino movies anyway.
The 411: Django Unchained is a fun, intense thrill ride. Tarantino remains one of the best, and most unique, directors working today. He has mastered the ability to balance his violence, humor and drama in a way that makes the very long film enjoyable from start to finish. There might have been a way to trim about 30 minutes from the running time, and the final portion of the movie, with Jamie Foxx as the main focus of attention, feels a big overlong, but at the end of the day this is what fans of Tarantino have come to expect. Django Unchained is another masterpiece from one of the best directors working in Hollywood.