Django Unchained

Django Unchained ★★★★★

One of his very best films, Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained holds a very special place in my heart, as it has the distinction of being the first R-rated film I ever saw in the theater. I had seen plenty of R-rated films uncut in home viewings and on cable channels, but seeing the massive amounts of bloodshed and gunfights on a giant theater screen without any form of censorship was an entirely different experience altogether. Tarantino had built up his career on creating homages to mid 20th century American cinema set in that time period, but starting with Django Unchained, he travels a different route into the spaghetti western, testing a new formula all his own that would serve as a blueprint for his next project The Hateful Eight.

Backed by two outstanding performances from Jamie Foxx and an Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz (and a thrilling appearance by Leonardo DiCaprio), Tarantino constructs a fascinating Old West adventure that epitomizes all of the American western stylistic inspirations that he had drawn from for his entire career up to this point. It's a classic revenge and rescue tale, for sure, but Tarantino's own eclectic style is finally allowed to converge into one gargantuan epic western the likes of which hadn't graced the silver screen in over forty years.

Django Unchained's cinematography is smart and snappy. Fast-paced zoom-ins focus on key character reactions as older films would do in order to emphasize an actor's response in the fullest way possible. The framing is rid of any and all distractions in favor of tight focuses to ensure that the audience is fully aware and engaged by the action on screen. Conversely, wide panoramas of the barren countryside pepper Django and Dr. King's journey- we are allowed to fully intake and appreciate the pre-Civil War universe that Tarantino built up for his story. Its framing and pacing are sure to leave the viewer breathless- or, more accurately, gasping for air- because when the action builds up, your nerves will be shot through as if a bolt of lightning had passed through your system.

Tarantino throws together a concoction of old and new for his soundtrack- stylistic Western ballads (including the Django theme song from the original 1966 spaghetti western starring Franco Nero) feature prominently, with a few of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western themes making appearances for good measure; while more modern songs from the likes of Rick Ross, James Brown, and 2Pac invite a modern style that is sure to keep an updated appearance to Tarantino's modern western classic.

Quentin Tarantino rarely was one to make high class art- rather focusing on bringing big budgeted B-movies to wider audiences. One of his best and yet least seen examples of this style can be found in his criminally underrated joint effort with Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse (Rodriguez himself continues on in this style with his Machete series). Django Unchained is a different beast altogether for Tarantino- here we have a big-budget western that culminates in a quite literally explosive third act; providing a jarring tonal shift from the slow buildup in the first two-thirds(ish) that also boasts an impressive array of cameos from classic cult stars like Tom Savini and Zoe Bell. Django Unchained continues the slight departure in style for Tarantino that started with Inglourious Basterds that has proven to be a more than welcome change in his vision. Tarantino himself proved to be a masterful screenwriter with the absolutely captivating True Romance (and again with The Hateful Eight); and Django Unchained, while again providing a welcome stylistic change from much of Tarantino's previous work, is a perfect bridge between two distinct eras of his stylistic evolution that would later come into full transformation with his latest film. To that end, I cannot fault it. It's a symphony of violence- a masterpiece of bulletstorms and bloodshed, and one of the most endearing cinematic experiences of my life thus far.

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