Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Released: 25 December 2012
No spoilers to be found here!
Most filmmakers needs an introductory movie that hits mainstream audiences and creates new loyal fans. People who wouldn’t necessarily have watched their other films, but because of this one movie now does. Christopher Nolan had Batman Begins, Steven Spielberg had Jaws and now we have Django Unchained, the perfect introductory movie for Quentin Tarantino.
Django Freeman, played by Jamie Foxx, is a slave in the 1850:s USA. He stumbles upon the somewhat strange Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz. The two of them set out together as bounty hunters, searching for Django’s long-lost wife, Broomhilda. During their quests, they somehow meet up with the horrific plantation owner Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
As this is a Tarantino-movie, you expect a pretty great screenplay, and the movie does deliver just that. Django Unchained handles heavy subjects such as slavery, but with that certain Tarantino-touch, similar to Inglorious Basterds. He shows the horrors of the age and doesn’t shy away from the uglier sides, but it never comes of as politically charged or anything alike. Even though people may say strange things and wear unusual attires, the world still feels like a place that once could have existed. I do believe Quentin treated the subject with respect, without sacrificing any of his artistic freedom, something a writer should be applauded for.
But if you look at the actual plot of the movie, it isn’t that complicated or original. It is a western revenge-movie, meaning a guy on a horse want revenge on some other guys with horses. But it is also a classic hero’s journey arc with a damsel in distress, something that is heavily implied in the film. It’s a good story, but you have seen the likes before and it will presumably not rock your boat to much. But then we turn to dialogue, and jolly is it good. I mentioned in my Jackie Brown review that I couldn’t remember a lot of spoken lines from it, total opposite here in Django. There are so many great dialogues, monologues and use of the spoken word in general. I can quote this movie a lot, something that makes me really happy. I remember so many different scenes, and since the movie is a little under three hours, it makes for a wonderful adventure to tag along on. While I don’t think these written dialogues are better as say Pulp Fiction, I do still think this is some of the best material Quentin has ever written. While the actual plot itself may seem a bit to familiar for this type of movie, everything else that is cramped into this screenplay makes it unique in so many ways. I almost get a little tear in my eye just thinking about this grand adventure I just took with this dear cast of characters. I reckon some props are in order.
And what a wonderful cast of characters it is. Django Freeman, portrayed by Jamie Foxx, starts out as a slave with a pretty negative view on life. But throughout the movie he grows a lot as a character, very much in rhythm with the hero’s journey. Going through hardships he gains self-confidence and a more mature view of the world. The plot isn’t the most original ever written, and that carries over into Django’s development as well. Since he is a pretty standardly written hero character, it is easy to guess how he is going to change. But where the character succeeds is in the presentation, thanks a lot to Foxx’s performance. Django is such a fun and cool character, even though you may think he is unoriginal, his sheer likability makes you route for him the entire way through.
Even though Django is a fun character, my favorite in the movie is Dr. King Schultz, played by one of my favorite actors, Christoph Waltz. He meets Django early on and trains him to become a bounty hunter. He is an intelligent and witty man, but also dead serious with his tasks. He is always fun to watch and his indestructible moral compass makes him a joy to root for. He is unlike anything Tarantino has ever done, except for Col. Hans Landa (also played by Waltz) from Inglorious Basterds. It’s not that the characters are that similar, just that Christoph’s acting somehow makes them a bit equal. I do however think Schultz is different enough in order to appreciate both characters for their own merits and kudos for that.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie is a phenomenal baddie. Leo plays the character with his usual charm and occasional loud shouts, but it all works very well for the character. He is formal, hospitable and well-spoken, in other words a “champagne villain”. What makes Calvin memorable doesn’t only have to do with the actor, but also realizing that such despicable people have existed, and that they didn’t have a Django going after them.
Last character mention goes out to Stephen, the senior house slave at Calvin’s household, played by Samuel L. Jackson. In my Jackie Brown review I though Samuel’s character Ordell was a bit to similar to Jules in Pulp Fiction. This criticism does not apply to Django Unchained. I have never seen Jackson play such an odd character. He is old, bitter and almost unrecognizable with all the makeup. He does his usual Jackson-shouts and so, but they make Stephen seem like a grumpy old man, completely different compared to his other Tarantino-characters. Even though Stephen doesn’t have a major part in the story, the refreshing performance by Jackson sells this character and is another great one in Tarantino’s ever growing collection.
Whenever I think of the music of Django Unchained I become a little bit happier inside. It is a great soundtrack ranging from old-school spaghetti-western tracks to modern rap and pop-songs. I would argue that it is the most diverse soundtrack in any Tarantino-movie, and each track perfectly encompasses it’s scene. There are so many different styles of music, all utilized in perfect ways, that I just fall in awe. The film makers probably knew they had gold and actually included a music-selection part of the Blu-Ray, where you could choose a track and it would play the scene the song was featured in. It’s a great way to inject snippets of Django into your day-to-day life. I could almost say that Django’s music-selection is within my personal top ten of all time, would have to think about it, but it’s possible. In every sense of the word, a fantastic soundtrack.
One last positive thing about the movie I still have to address. I have read some reviews of it stating that the last part of the movie was a bit of a drag and ruined the pacing a bit. I get where they are coming from, and without spoiling anything, the movie does have conjuncted third act. At first I was a bit skeptical too, but I realize now that it is intentionally constructed that way in order to deliver an ending so amazingly satisfying, your face will make a big smile and becomes very happy as the credits start to roll.
The movie isn’t flawless however, I do have some issues with it. My biggest gripe with Django Unchained is the first third of it. The main plot of the movie hasn’t really been put in motion and time is mostly spent building up our characters as well as their relationships to each other. My problem with this is that after about an hour into the movie, the actual story hasn’t even begun. I know that it is important to set up character and so on, but I do think it could have been intertwined with the actual plot a bit better. As it stands now, you have this weird second-rate villain for a little while who then becomes irrelevant. This would have been a major flaw if it wasn’t for the cheer quality of the execution. It does exactly what it needs to do, set up characters and relationships, but this first hour also contains some of the best scenes in the entire movie and never gets boring. It just ends up feeling a bit strange when such a large part of the movie hasn’t anything to do with the actual plot.
Another small gripe I have with it is how Django’s wife, Broomhilda, is portrayed. She is set up as something for Django to strive towards, but she never becomes fleshed out enough in order to become an interesting character herself. The movie almost never relies on her and therefore it isn’t a big issue, but I still think it sticks out a bit.
Django Unchained is the perfect Tarantino gateway-movie. It contains a compelling plot, fantastic characters, fun action and great music. It is very easy to get into and you will have a lot of fun watching it without any previous knowledge of the directors filmography (this is also probably why Django Unchained remains Tarantino’s highest grossing film, even after the release of The Hateful Eight). I think the movie succeeds on almost all fronts, I have a few issues with the script at times, but these are so minimal in the grand scheme of things that they might not exists at all. This is one of my favorite Tarantino movies, as well as westerns, of all time. If you’ve never seen a film directed by Quentin Tarantino before, look no further than Django Unchained. For every one else, you are in for treat (but y’all probably seen this movie already).