“He is a rambunctious sort, ain’t he?”
– Calvin Candie
Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to his films being the talking point of a conversation.
Weeks before the release of his latest film, Django Unchained, has already done just that evidenced by the backlash against an SNL standup that Jaime Foxx (who stars as Django) gave as well as acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee denouncing the film, calling it “disrespectful to his ancestors”.
Although Tarantino has made a few films that have been hailed by pop culture, does Django have what it takes to be included on that list?
When hunting down a group of men known as the Brittle brothers, German bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) seeks out a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) since Django knows what the outlaws look like. After freeing Django, the two forge a mutual agreement that Schultz would assist Django in locating & freeing his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) after the Brittle brothers have been located.During the journey, Django is taken under Schultz’s wing and becomes a bounty hunter himself. The duo comes across racist detractors & involves a trip through one of the most known plantations in the Deep South, owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Will Django & Schultz be able to find & rescue Broomhilda?
The cast is much like the acting in this film; top notch.
Jamie Foxx delivers an entertaining performance as the titular character. Even though actors such as were originally considered for the role, he delivers the right beats that makes us root for him. Right alongside Foxx is Christoph Waltz, was very clever in his performance as he integrated humor in most of the lines he gave.
On a related manner, the pairing of Foxx & Waltz was perhaps one of my favorite onscreen pairings all year.
Kerry Washington deserves a boatload of credit for her everything that she did in her role of Broomhilda. According to an interview that she did for a TVOne special on Django Unchained, she admitted to allowing herself to be whipped. This, along with what she goes through onscreen, makes her worthy of a nod in my book.I strongly believe that any movie like this is only as good as its villain. And right on schedule, Leonardo DiCaprio gives an electric performance as enigmatic ‘moustache-twirling’ plantation owner, Calvin Candie. Next to Django, his may have been my favorite performance as he brings the same passion he has in roles past.
Sam Jackson reunites with Tarantino once again, as he gives a great performance as Stephen, a character very important to the story.
Unfortunately, the story wasn’t as consistently sharp as the acting. There seemed to be a handful of necessary scenes (although some being funny), including an over bloated concluding 20-30 minutes that sprang from a conclusion that could’ve been satisfactory. During the ‘last act’ of this movie, I felt less invested in the movie, like the air had been let out of a balloon.
While there were a handful of moments in that section that I liked, I liked it less as I thought it was completely pandering & senseless as I thought, “This movie should’ve ended already.”
Before I go on, I want to point out that I like Tarantino’s work. I’ve seen Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bill (Extended), & Inglorious Basterds, just to name a few. Despite being known for his M.O. for being a filmmaker that has a lot of violence in his films, I don’t have an issue with these movies.
With that in mind, the violence in Django Unchained gets to a point where it’s over the top, even for Tarantino. This may very well be Tarantino’s most violent film to date. (Mainly in the last act in the movie.)
For those who may not know, there is an infamous scene in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. cuts off the ear of a cop before attempting to light him on fire. I would prefer that than approximately 50% of the violence in this movie.
“Why would I say that?” you may be thinking (that is, if you’re still reading this). It’s not because it’s familiar scene in cinema. It’s because the ear scene leaves it in your imagination. When you show all of the violence like in some of Django, it becomes suffocating to where you may lose your audience, either they physically leave the theater or mentally check out of the movie.
Coupled with the fact that most of the violence I have an issue with came close to the last act of the movie turned journeying along with Django & Schultz to a very uncomfortable trudge just get through the movie.
During the same TVOne special for Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino stated that he made wrote this spaghetti western to the backdrop of slavery as he considered it among the one of the cruelest times possible.
Now I don’t want nor expected this movie to be light-handed with the violence, given that Tarantino’s at the helm as well as the mentioned time period. Even when I saw the movie, I understood Tarantino’s intention in using the violence to shed light on the ugliness of racism & to his credit, it certainly worked… the first time around.
Notwithstanding, the aspects that I enjoyed about this film, like the acting, the few funny moments (including a polite horse), and the symbolisms behind this very unique movie premise, my issue with the movie is like one of my issues with The Matrix Reloaded (mainly certain action films since The Matrix [Bullet time, anyone?]) & more recently in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was overdoing something; in this specific case, it was to the point of alienating me out of the movie.
Since the movie takes place during the times of slavery, there is gratuitous use of the ‘n’ word. There is also plenty of spicy language to go around as well as few instances of graphic non-sexual nudity (including a brief male full-frontal).
There are also very intense dramatic scenes that show images of blacks being mistreated in multiple ways as well as Django & Schultz in a very intense dramatic scene (probably my favorite scene in the movie). Oh and did I mention that this movie maaaay contain a few violent parts.
Out of all of the movies I’ve seen this year, Django Unchained is a movie that is best described by Calvin Candie; “Adult Supervision IS Required.”I think Tarantino deserves a lot of credit for coming up with such a unique & imaginative concept as well as a good portion of his execution from a cinematic & [to a lesser extent] a storytelling standpoint as I found it at times entertaining while leaving me reflective of the atrocities of the past.
That much, I cannot deny.
While I absolutely loved how the aforementioned aspects as well as the talented cast that assisted with Tarantino’s labor of love, I was very disappointed that it went completely over the top by senselessly ramping up the violence & over extended the ending in a painfully obvious way to pander.
Bottom line: I don’t think that Django Unchained as a whole is on the same level as his previous films. In addition: I think that this film & it’s director deserves four words aimed at its direction, which should simply state; “Well played, Mr. Tarantino.” B-
Fade to black…