Django Unchained * * * *

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Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Walter Goggins, James Remar, James Russo, Dennis Christopher, Laura Cayouette, Don Stroud, M. C. Gainey, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, James Parks, Michael Parks, John Jarratt, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Dern, Franco Nero.

Few director’s can claim such enthusiasm upon the release of their new film but Quentin Tarantino is certainly one of them. There’s always a real buzz and anticipation to see what provocative and sensationalist material he’ll be serving up. So, back he comes and once again he has revenge on his mind. This time it’s not with Samurai’s or Nazi’s but with six-shooter gunslinging as he heads West (or south, as the case may be) to pay homage to the films of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. This being the most renowned, creative (or plagiaristic) auteur behind the camera, though, he just can’t help himself, and infuses it with all sorts of influences. And the results? The results are highly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.

In the American South, two years before the civil war, former dentist now bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) free’s a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who will be able to help him track down three outlaws known as ‘the Brittle brothers’. As their relationship develops, Schultz learns of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is now the property of ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and they both hatch a plan to free her.

Depictions of slavery have been commonplace throughout the history of cinema. The television show of Alex Haley’s “Roots” in 1977 was one of the first to have a major impact on audiences and Steven Spielberg gave a harrowing introduction of it in his 1997 film “Amistad“. Despite some distressing early scenes in that film, though, Spielberg decided to focus more on the legal issues involved and it progressed into a courtroom drama. Here, Tarantino chooses differently and doesn’t pull any punches. He depicts the brutality these people faced with daring and damning conviction. As always, controversy has followed. It uses racially aggressive language throughout but although Tarantino isn’t known for his entire commitment to historical events, his attention to detail here is fitting and even though it’s been criticised from others (mainly Spike Lee who refuses to even watch it) it has, in Tarantino’s words, created a “dialogue” amongst people about the seriousness of this dark chapter of American history. If one positive is to be taken from this film, it’s that. These heinous events should be addressed and it would seem that Quentin is the only one willing to do it. Personally, I applaud him.
Like most (if not all) of Tarantino’s films, when the actors are verbalising the work of his quill the results become an oratory dance with dialogue. On the surface, this doesn’t have as many quotable lines as his previous works but where Tarantino has improved, is in keeping a scene running with endless wordplay and skilfully teasing a tentative audience. There are memorable and quotable lines here, for sure, but his maturity now lies in drawing out the almost unbearable tension between his characters. His past movies have always contained riveting dialogues but “Inglorious Basterds” was proof that he’d taken it further and could craft masterful scenes of suspense. This is no different, and it’s helped immeasurably by the actors involved; Foxx delivers some solid work as the titular character but has little to do in the earlier part of the film and, if truth be told, he gets overshadowed by three sublime supporting performances (who incidentally had their roles written specifically for them); Waltz is, simply, superb and a similar breed to his character Hans Landa from “Inglorious Basterds“. He’s just as loquacious but, only this time, more endearing; DiCaprio acts up a storm with a rare villainous role who is prone to fits of sadistic and uncontrollable rage and Jackson is perfectly fitting as his dedicated servant who is a conniving and twisted individual. It’s in these superb actors that most of the enjoyment is found in Tarantino’s latest. Although the subject matter is dark and the violence vividly displayed, the story’s not without humour and one particularly satirical scene involving the Ku Klux Klan and their inability to see through their makeshift hoods is absolutely hilarious. It also looks magnificent with cinematographer Robert Richardson capturing the vast and desolate landscapes to perfection.
Even though they are slight, the film is not without faults. Over-length is an issue with some scenes that could have been trimmed without compromising the overall impact and, at times, there was too much reliance on convenience in some plot developments. Still, when it’s the ingenuity of Tarantino at the helm, these minuscule misjudgements can be overlooked as the journey itself is so enjoyable.

A parody of Spaghetti-Western, with humour, violence and blaxploitation. If anyone can make this work, Tarantino can. And that he does. This is another impressive addition to his canon and even though the “D” may be silent, his artistic voice is, most certainly, not.

Mark Walker

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55 Responses to “Django Unchained * * * *”

  1. Great review as always Mark. Still haven’t seen this one mainly due to my lukewarm opinion of QT. I know I will eventually. I always do when it comes to his movies.

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    • Cheers Keith. I really enjoyed this. It absolutely superb entertainment and I was tempted to rate it slightly higher. However, it was the length that stopped me and few plot unravellings that didn’t entirely convince. Love me some Tarantino πŸ˜‰

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  2. Excellent review, been hearing alot of buzz surrounding this one.

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  3. Nice review. I haven’t seen this yet, but I’m a big QT fan. I think I’ll watch this one this film this weekend along with Zero Dark Thirty.

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  4. Of course I’ve always liked QT’s shit – but this one looked even more pretentious than anything he’s put out yet, so I have not been too interested. I’m sure I’ll watch it when it comes out to rent but I haven’t felt like spending forty bucks at the theater for it : )

    Great writing!!

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    • Cheers bro! I don’t normally watch trailers but from the ones I’d seen of this, I didn’t like the look of it either. I know what you mean by pretentious but honestly, it’s a great film and there’s plenty you don’t get in the trailer. It’s Tarantino after all man. He’s always worth a look.

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      • Oh I’ll see it – for cheap!! I’d rather spend my forty bucks like I’m going to in a couple of hours – with Schwarzie and THE LAST STAND!!

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      • Cheapness is always the best policy but I guarantee your forty bucks will better spent on this than big Schwarzie! Still, I’ll await your review on that one. πŸ˜‰

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      • LOL probably – but I have always been a big sucker for his action movies ever since I was a kid…!

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      • I’ve enjoyed many an Arnie flick throughout my childhood but I just don’t think he has it anymore. If he even ever did have it. It was more to do with the filmmakers than him. Saying that, I hope it floats your boat man. Enjoy!

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  5. Django Unchained is classic Quentin Tarantino with a western twist. 2 hours and 45 minutes is a lengthy run time, but if handled well, it shouldn’t feel that long. Here, Django Unchained never feels as long as it is; however, it never feels short either. And that, in my mind, is what really makes this flick special. Good review Mark.

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    • Cheers Dan. Yeah, it certainly doesn’t feel that it’s nearly 3 hrs that have passed but it definitely could have been trimmed, making it a little tighter. However, this is a minor fault in what is, otherwise, a superb film.

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  6. I’ve yet to see a bad review for this. Well done Mark, very good review. I look forward to seeing it, hopefully on the theaters.

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  7. Excellent review, Mark. I am really looking forward to this movie.

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    • It’s brilliant entertainment Steph. The violence and racial slurs may upset some viewers but if you know Tarantino then you’ll know what to expect. He challenges a difficult subject head-on.

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  8. ray brayne Says:

    I don’t care for Tarantino’s films. Since “Pulp Fiction” they’ve been nothing but a glorified excuse for bloody mayhem and slaughter. This ones no different, just longer, more delayed in getting to the blood splatter. And what splatter there is! How many times can one body be shot and still send up a spume of blood 8 feet high. That seems to be the only question Tarantino is trying to answer! I can’t understand the acclaim this film is getting. Black people here universally hate it as nothing but exploitation!

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    • I’ve always enjoyed Tarantino’s stuff Ray. I don’t think many compete with Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction but I always find his stuff highly entertaining. I know that some have been offended by it but I’m surprised it’s being seen as exploitation. It’s certainly a tribute to blaxploitation cinema but I wonder if this wasn’t directed directed by a white guy, would it still be such an issue? That’s a double-edged sword right there.

      Thanks for dropping in Ray. It’s good to hear your opinion again man. πŸ™‚

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      • ray brayne Says:

        His characters always seem underdeveloped and mere tools for the Ultra-violence that’s sure to follow. He’s even taken to placing his films in violent eras e.g. WW2. He’s never taken to ending his film short of a violent solution.
        As for the black critics, Spike Lee for one came out hard against it. Tarantino tried to defend himself by saying slavery was much worse. But a lot of people aren’t buying that as reason for this bloody depiction!

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      • I didn’t find his characters underdeveloped at all, with the exception of Broomhilda. She didn’t have a lot to do but the main characters were well drawn out. I did have a problem with some convenient plot developments like Broomhilda coincidentally being of German decent which fit a little too easily with the nationality of Django’s saviour Schultz. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers but I also found the transaction between them of the Mandingo a little underwhelming and easily resolved. Other than this, I thought the film, for the most part was very strong. You’re right on the tendency for bloodbath Conclusions, though. It seems to be his trademark.

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    • How can you say this is explotative ray? When have you ever seen a film about slavery where the “nigger” (that word the film is critisised for saying too much”) gets to be the hero? I get the blood and gore point but its better than the usual guy gets shot and falls down deal ..QT shows authenitic hurt with deep realism.. To say this film is explotative is unbelievable to me and i would like to know how its “universally” believed so!

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      • ray brayne Says:

        The simple explotation equation is– Slavery + Revenge = Violence and Blood Letting. Somethings Tarantino knows all too well. The black media voices I’ve heard, Tavis Smiley, Spike Lee have been strongly against Django. I’ve yet to hear those for it. If you long for a strong black “Hero”, try Djimon Hounsou in “Amistad”. Practically free of gratuitous violence!

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  9. One of my favs of the year. Great review Mark.

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  10. Not reading this, as Ive not even watched a trailer. Going into this as blind as possible. Saw the 4 stars and I’m happy πŸ™‚ Nice one el duderino !

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    • Haha! “El Duderino”? So you’re not into the whole brevity thing πŸ˜‰

      I respect your avoidance man. I actually seen the trailers and it put me off but it’s Tarantino man. He doesn’t veer too far from the path. Hope you like it!

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  11. Wow, it seems I’m in that small category of people that did not like it at all (you can read the review on my blog to see why). It lacked most of the things Tarantino stands for: the dialogue didn’t do anything for me and Christoph Waltz seems to be a one trick pony.

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    • Ooh! I’d agree on the dialogue not being as snappy as we expect from QT but there’s tonnes of balls here man. I personally thought Waltz was the real highlight. Everyone was good but Waltz really stood out again. I can see him being a favourite of Tarantino (much like Sam Jackson). He seems to deliver the lines with perfection.

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      • Well, for me he just didn’t do it this time around. I grew tired of his antics pretty fast in DU.

        As for balls, frankly, I strongly feel this has none but I’d be interested to hear your opinion as to the ownership of balls, for lack of a better word πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting you say waltz was a one trick pony but is that only because he has had two roles in QT’s films.. Both characters were vastly different! He was an evil fucker in inglourious, and an lovely in this! maybe the only simularity could be his gentlemaness?
      His character came out of nowhere in this film and went in the same fashion.. This led me to get quite philosophical thinking about his role in the overall story.. He could have represented and angel of hope, a facilitator of destiny or a metaphorical educator on the bleakness of the slavery trade? no? just saying πŸ™‚

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  12. I’ll back you up on the “could have been trimmed” thing Mark. Still one of my favorite movies of last year, and fun as hell, but it could have been better if it was a little tighter here and then, especially at the end.

    YOu’re spot on in paying so much attention to Tarantino’s skill at making us squirm during dialogue scenes. He does that SO well now. LOL

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    • Great movie Fogs! I don’t think I’ll actually post a top ten movies of last year because of release dates and such, and also because it’s too damn hard. What I will say, though, is that this is certainly one of them (even though its realised in 2013 for us poor Scots.. πŸ˜‰ )

      It could have been trimmed, no doubt! I actually felt that the scene between Waltz and DiCaprio finalising a deal could have been the prelude to an ending but QT decided to flesh things further. It was disjointed, to say the least. That being said, he’s really wringing out some marvellously long dialogue driven scenes though, isn’t he?

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  13. Awesome Movie. A true Spaghetti Western πŸ™‚

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  14. Brilliant Review, Mark.

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  15. Great review, Mark. So glad you enjoyed this one. You nailed it with this line:

    “Still, when it’s the ingenuity of Tarantino at the helm, these minuscule misjudgements can be overlooked as the journey itself is so enjoyable.”

    It’s not a perfect film, but damn if it isn’t a fun one.

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  16. Great post. I really agree that editing some thirty minutes or so from the film could have improved it somewhat, but there are some real moments of genius throughout. I can’t wait to see more of Waltz after this film, he’s just excellent.

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    • Thank you. I couldn’t agree more with you here. I felt that the film led up to ending at one point and then decided to calm things down and keep going – leading to another denouement. I’m glad you mention Waltz as well. I loved all three of the supporting performances but if I really had to pick a favourite, it would be Waltz.
      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. Much appreciated πŸ™‚

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  17. Nice review, Mark! I like your last line there, very clever. I think Spike Lee can be such a grump. I agree with what director Antoine Fuqua said about the use of the ‘n’ word, it it’s set in a time when that word was used, then it’s perfectly fitting to do so.

    I will give this a rent, I don’t think I could handle the subject matter and violence on the big screen. I did the same with Dredd and I’m certainly glad I didn’t see that one in 3D!

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    • Thanks Ruth. I totally agree, if certain language or events are used in context then I don’t see what the problem is.
      Artists should never compromise their work in order to fit in or appeal to the masses. There’s a certain authenticity that should always be upheld. Tarantino has taken some stick for this but I think he’s actually quite brave. Okay, it’s not entirely historical accurate but there is a realism to it.

      The violence can be pretty full on and I know you’re not keen on that but there’s also plenty of style and humour here.

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  18. sanclementejedi Says:

    I knew you would love this.
    Here is an idea I am tossing around: Tarantino is like a rap artist in that he samples from all these different films and melds them altogether to make something original and usually spectacular.

    I don’t see all the hate that this film is getting from some people either for the violence or the language. It’s the South pre-civil war it’s supposed to look terrible.

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    • Yeah man, this was a lot of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

      Totally agree on Tarantino, he’s like a great D.J. that always keeps it interesting and never let’s the audience get bored. His mash-up’s are second to none.

      Agreed again, on the the pre-civil war depiction. What is it that people want here? Hugs and kisses all round? Tarantino don’t do hugs and kisses and neither did pre-civil war conditions.

      Thanks again Adam. πŸ™‚

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  19. ilovethatfilm Says:

    Great stuff! Hope the length doesn’t ruin the ride when I finally get round to seeing this!

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    • It’s so enjoyable that the length can be forgiven. In fairness it doesn’t feel that long which is testament to Tarantino’s abilities. Hope you like it man. If you enjoy QT’s stuff then I don’t doubt that you will.

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  20. I liked quite a bit about this film, but also didn’t like several elements as well. It was an odd feeling leaving the theater after the showing. I did think that some of the characters were lacking. Specifically Django and his wife. The movie is about him but we enjoy the supporting characters a whole lot more.

    I applauded QT in my review/open letter for his non-avoidance of the brutality of slavery, but felt he went too over the top (as is his style). Also wasn’t too keen on the avoidance of the loyalty that many slaves had amongst each other. There was none in the film at all.

    A fantastic review here Mark. Well written. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Thanks T. I remember reading your open letter to Tarantino, it was very well done man.
      This film certainly had it’s flaws, like you say, Django was the main character but overshadowed by colourful supporting ones. It’s a bad day when the lead isn’t commanding the screen as he should.
      Still, I found plenty to enjoy. Tarantino’s audacity and style is hard not to like.

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  21. “even though the β€œD” may be silent, his artistic voice is, most certainly, not.” LOL, loved it.

    Nice review, Marky. My review’ll be up tomorrow and you’ll see we agree on a lot of things about this one.

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  22. So I haven’t seen this one but given it’s so in the mid right now it behooves me to ramble just a bit, not too much, to get my feet wet as it were, test the waters at the deep end of the pool and see what folks are scurrying about about. You got it right right from the start, ” The results are highly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.” which is the tag line most folks are looking for. More of the same but different, a lot of in your face bruises and contusions and rapier wit like no other hammering out films these days but I gotta stop until I get further along. I mean this film is one of those films that demands screen time and you can’t talk about the duck hunt until you’ve pulled up your slick galoshes and waders and taken the plunge. I think this film will land like most of his since Jackie Brown – the lovers and the haters and few in the middle. He’s obviously Tarrantino unchanined and you either eat that up and ask for more or send the plate back to the kitchen and hope you can get the big man to come out from behind the heat lamps, wad his apron up and prepare to talk about his indulgences. Not an easy thing with an ego his size, not many hats out there these days that can corral his expansive cranial real state but that being said, you tackle this one with passion and grit and that’s always worth the read. cheers->

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    • I was starting wonder if Tarantino had anything left in the tank as most of his films of late have mainly consisted of revenge stories but he always seems to pull something out of his hat. It’s not as good as his earlier films but proof enough that he can still deliver the goods. You mention Jackie Brown and that’s something I’d like to see him do more of. That’s one of his most underrated and I’d really like it if he adapted more of Elmore Leonard’s stuff. It’s entirely suited to his style. Thanks again man.

      Like

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