PG Cooper: Django Unchained Review

Posted: December 28, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Django-Unchained-character-posters

 

Django Unchained marks the last of my big films of 2012. When I say big films, I’m not referring to blockbusters, I’m referring to the few films that I was extremely excited for. Every year there are a lot of films that I look forward to, but only a few that I anticipate strongly. This year, the list was Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Master, and finally Django. I imagine most film buffs had similar feelings toward Django given the talent behind it. Quentin Tarantino is one of the best working directors today, continuously putting out consistent and entertaining films. I’ve always admired the way Tarantino takes B-story elements and mixing them with A-list talent and the idea of mixing a spaghetti Western with American slavery seemed an intriguing idea.

The film opens with a group of slaves being taken through the woods by two slave runners. Among the slaves is Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who has recently been through extreme sorrow, which includes being separated by his wife (Kerry Washington). The group are met by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter who needs Django’s assistance. King is tracking a group known as the Brittle Brothers, but he doesn’t know what they look like. Django does, and so King takes Django in and trains him as a bounty hunter. King also agrees to help Django save his wife from the detestable Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Tarantino films have a long standing tradition of great dialogue, and Django continues that legacy. Characters have very energetic and intelligent conversations and I love hearing them speak. This isn’t one of his most quotable films, but the dialogue still has an exciting flair to it. There’s also an underlying tension to all of the conversations. The bullets could start flying at any minute should a character say or do the wrong thing. Tarantino also crafts an interesting revenge tale which is entertaining and surprising despite its simplicity.

Tarantino also fills the movie with interesting characters, played by great actors. Jamie Foxx is great in the title role. He starts out as someone a bit quiet and repressed by slavers, but his experiences with King allow him to branch out and become a charismatic badass. It’s a nice little arc which is done subtlety and is slightly reminiscent of the arc Foxx portrayed in Collateral. Christoph Waltz is also highly entertaining as King Schultz. His performance isn’t far removed from his work in Inglorious Basterds, but his menace being replaced by a certain warmth and his relationship with Django felt genuine. Sam Jackson also gets to play a character far removed from his usual work which is interesting to see. Speaking of different, it is awesome to see Leo DiCaprio play a villain. DiCaprio takes his natural charm and twists it for a character who is ruthless and despicable. Calvin Candie is easily the most repulsive character DiCaprio has ever played, and I loved watching it. His work is award worthy and stands out in both the film and DiCaprio’s filmography. The only actor that fumbles the ball is QT himself. I’ve never minded Tarantino’s acting, but he has a brief role as in Australian slaver. Seeing Quentin is extremely distracting and his performance his awful. Still, Tarantino aside, this is a very strong cast.

The film is punctuated by some absolutely brutal violence, another trademark of Tarantino. The violence comes in quick flashes, but it leaves its mark when it comes. While some may say the action goes too far, I find most of it very entertaining. There are some awesome shoot-outs, particularly in the third-act when Django hits a new level of badassery. These scenes are stylish, bloody, and highly memorable. This reflects a trend in Tarantino’s films. While he always showed panache for dialogue and character, his early works are very restrained visually. But with Kill Bill, Quentin began pushing his visual sensibilities and this has continued with Django Unchained.

Though I did highly enjoy Django Unchained, it is not a perfect film. I’ve already mentioned Tarantino’s horrid cameo, but the film has a bigger issue; the editing. At two hours and forty five minutes, Django Unchained runs a bit long. I have no problem with long runtimes if it feels warranted, but I feel Django could have been cut down. This is made very obvious in the film’s third act where the film had what seemed like a climax before continuing for another twenty minutes. These last moments lose a lot of energy and felt unnecessary. I also wasn’t entirely on board with how parts of the story progressed in the film’s final moments. I suspect the pacing can mostly (if not entirely) be linked to the fact that Tarantino is working with a new editor. All of Tarantino’s past films were edited by Sally Menke who passed away a few years ago. I imagine having to work with a different editor for the first time was hard for Quentin and that their relationship might have been very awkward. It’s also important to note that editor Fred Raskin has never worked with an A-list director before and likely didn’t feel comfortable standing up to Quentin.

Even with its problems, Django Unchained is still one of the year’s best. The acting is great, the story is interesting, the action intense, and the dialogue crisp. The film is also made with a confidence and efficiency most films can’t attain. It definitely ranks in the bottom half of Tarantino’s filmography, though that likely says more about how much I enjoy his other works than how flawed Django is.

Rating: A

Comments
  1. ckckred says:

    I’m really looking forward to this one. I’m a big fan of Quentin Tarantino’s work. Nice review.

  2. Hunter says:

    This was my first Tarantino film and I really liked it. One of my favorites from the year.
    I definitely agree with you about the length though. I didn’t get bored, but I kept thinking there were times when the film should have ended, but didn’t. It seemed like Django kept going back to Candie Land, and I was like “dude you got your wife, just get out of there!” It kind of made me wonder if his wife or revenge was more important to him, you know?
    I totally missed Tarantino’s cameo, maybe because I don’t know what he looks like really… Does he always do a cameo in his films?
    Anyway, all of the performances (that I noticed ha ha) were great and I still really like the film, despite how unnecessarily long it was. Looking forward to watching some more Tarantino soon, especially if the dialogue is even better in his other films!

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      He has small roles in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Death Proof. I actually like his appearances there.

      And you, you’ll probably really enjoy some of his other stuff. Pulp Fiction is one of the all time great films.

  3. vinnieh says:

    Great post, I really need to see this after reading your excellent review.

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. The movie is tons of fun to watch, and if you enjoyed any of Tarantino’s past movies at all, you’re sure to love Django Unchained. As did I, and it’s one of my favorites of the year.

  5. reel411 says:

    i didn’t find much wrong with it myself. maybe it could have been longer. maybe. but i was entertained every minute.

  6. Can’t wait to see it :D

  7. r361n4 says:

    I think this might tie for third of tarantino’s films for me with Inglorious basterds, after pulp fiction and reservoir dogs. Definitely not a reflection of flaws as you said though, just that tarantino is just that much of a boss

  8. Yeah, it definitely could have been trimmed down a bit, and Tarantino makes his WORST cameo ever, undeniably… but its still a great movie.

    Nice point about the conversations being great without being quotable. Probably a lot of that has to do with how racially charged they were. :o

    Nice review PG, I’m with you, this flick lived up to expectations!! :D

  9. The length of it was one of the very same things I had an issue with. and yeah, Tarantino’s cameo was a bit distracting, although it wasn’t unwelcome in my opinion. Good review.

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