Django Unchained

Django Unchained ★★★½

A movie by Quentin Tarantino is the polar opposite of a box of chocolates: for the most part, you know exactly what you’re going to get. Fantastically written dialogue, larger-than-life characters, more obscure movie references than you can shake a stick at and intense violence that borders on the grotesque. These are some of the elements that characterise Tarantino's work. In this sense, Django Unchained is classic and true Tarantino, his style is unmistakably present. Largely for the better, but unfortunately, also for worse.

We meet the black slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who is set free by an enigmatic bounty hunter, named King Schultz. Schultz needs Django's help in order to bring a band of outlaws to justice and in return he pledges to help Django exact revenge on the slave traders who are responsible for Django's current state of being and free Django's wife, who they have imprisoned. The two form an odd couple, especially at the time of 1850's America, where African Americans dangle at the bottom of the social ladder and are mostly seen as inferior beings. The main storyline of Django Unchained is a classic tale of revenge, moulded to fit the Western times in which it takes place.

The acting is what stands out in this movie. Especially Christoph Waltz, who absolutely shines in the form of Dr. Schultz. His character is a proficient shooter, but preferably uses his wide vocabulary and unique use of wordplay to overcome (and baffle) his opponents in favor of shooting bullets. The stunning performance by Waltz is only matched (but rarely outdone) by Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays slave trader Calvin Candie, who is equally menacing as he is flamboyant. When these two are on screen, magic happens. Unfortunately for Foxx, that is also where it is apparent that he can't hold a candle to the aforementioned actors. He feels extremely uncomfortable in the role of Django, especially in the first half of the film.

I never found Foxx as Django to be entirely convincing and honestly, I couldn't care less about his motives to free his wife and get his revenge. His character was that bland to me. A far cry from the roaring rampage of revenge that is The Bride from the two Kill Bill movies. I also wasn't that impressed by Samuel L. Jackson as Candie's butler and right hand. It was refreshing to see him try out something new, but to me it felt like it was a Western-styled caricature of a foul-mouthed black man that Jackson has played once too many times in his career.

The first act of the movie is sheer, utter brilliance. Especially the scene in which Django and Schultz meet is an early highlight for me, followed later by an even better scene in which the velvet tongue of Schultz manages to escape certain death from a firing squad by an angry mob. This ride of cinematic splendor continues until Django manages to kill the slave traders they were after in the first place. After that, It felt to me that the movie loses every sense of direction. The next hour and a half is a collage of scenes that lack any form of cohesion and seem haphazardly strung together, just for the sake of including them in the movie.

That is not to say that the scenes near the end are all bad. In fact, often the opposite is true. I fondly remember a scene in which a band of thugs discuss their garments, or better said, the lack of functionality thereof. This scene had me laughing all the way through. It is a well-known fact that Tarantino mainly makes movies for himself and he doesn't care what other people think about them. For the sake of the viewers of his work, it is clear that he is in dire need of an editor that knows when to reel him in and decides which scenes are essential to the plot. Django Unchained is about 45 minutes too long. The film should have ended with a shoot-out that seemingly is a fitting finale, but after that, the movie just drags on for the sake of doing so, it seems.

Django Unchained is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, I enjoyed my time watching this. I also think it is not the classic in making that many point it out to be. I doubt Tarantino takes advice from anyone, but if in some parallel universe I could give him a hint, I would tell him to re-evaluate his manner of filmmaking, before he becomes a parody of his own success.

Michiel liked this review