Reviewed by: Daniel Thompson
slaves / slavery in the Bible
Does the Bible condone slavery? Answer
life on pre-Civil War U.S. Southern plantation
rescuing wife from danger
bounty hunting / bounty hunter
Jamie Foxx … Django
Leonardo DiCaprio … Calvin Candie
Samuel L. Jackson … Stephen
Christoph Waltz … Dr. King Schultz
Kerry Washington … Broomhilda von Shaft
Zoe Bell … Tracker Peg
Bruce Dern … Curtis Carrucan
Walton Goggins … Billy Crash
Amber Tamblyn … Daughter of a Son of a Gunfighter
James Remar … Ace Speck
Don Johnson … Spencer Gordon ’Big Daddy’ Bennet
Robert Carradine … Tracker Lex
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The Weinstein Company
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The Weinstein Company
“Life, liberty and the pursuit of vengeance.”
As a young boy, I was told a story of a child who reaches his hand in a cookie jar, grabs a handful of cookies, and proceeds to get his hand stuck because of the large amount of cookies he is trying to extract. Instead of placing some of the cookies down, he continues to struggle with his plight because he is unable to let go of any of his goodies. The same can be said of Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction”, “Inglorious Basterds”), a talented auteur who “graces” the movie-going public with a new film every 3 years or so. With “Django Unchained”, Tarantino once again delivers a film with expertly made elements. He cannot, however, seem to get out of his own way and deliver a picture that’s enjoyable from start to finish. He does not understand the same principle that gets the little boy in trouble: sometimes, less is more.
Django is a slave in Texas right before the Civil War. He and his wife, Broomhilda, were sold separately after trying to run away, and they have not seen each other in a very long time. Along comes Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter for the U.S. government. Schultz purchases Django to help him kill criminals and collect the bounty. Along the way, a strong bond is formed between Shultz and Django which leads them on an adventure to rescue Django’s wife from the dastardly plantation owner Calvin Candie.
The film, as most Tarantino films do, pays homage to several particular genres of movies. There were a series of “Django” films in the late 1960s which is the basis for the story and character. “Django Unchained” blends Western, horror, comedy and even some classic “blaxploitation” elements into a B-movie “Grindhouse” formula that the director clearly enjoys. Also, prevalent is a wonderfully eclectic soundtrack, ranging from hip hop to country, from Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash, and even a little Jim Croce thrown in for good measure.
For all of the excess and lack of editing, Tarantino does showcase some excellent filmmaking. The director is clearly a student and lover of movies, and his screenplay contains some expertly written dialog. His problem is that he has no ability to part with any of his dialog. Clocking in at just less than 3 hours, “Django Unchained” is about 40 minutes longer than a B-movie-Western-comedy has any right to be. Tarantino is known for writing and rewriting pages and scenes in the middle of shooting. “Django Unchained” took over 130 days to film, and it seems as though all of that film wound up on screen.
The acting is top notch across the board. Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) was not the original choice for the role of Django, but he does an excellent job with a difficult role. Christoph Waltz does not have the same presence as he did in “Inglorious Basterds”, but is still more than adequate as Dr. Schultz. Two actors, however, come along and steal the movie, one of which is brand new to Tarantino’s films while the other is an old staple. Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Aviator”, “J. Edgar”) plays the antagonist Calvin Candie with relish. He is a cold-hearted villain that still manages to inject humor into his performance. Tarantino veteran Samuel L. Jackson arrives on the scene about halfway through the film, and delivers one of his most memorable performances as the head slave of Candie’s plantation, Stephen.
Viewers of “Django Unchained” should know exactly what they’re getting before they walk in the theater, but for those who are uninitiated to the director’s style or the genre of the film, please proceed with extreme caution. The film contains graphic language, male and female nudity, as well as an inordinate amount of violence, which was clearly done on purpose by the director to showcase the inhumanity of the time period. Blood spills and gushes from every possible body part. Two dogs rip a human being limb from limb. People are branded. The film spares no expense in creating the atmosphere of a B-movie revenge picture.
Just like the beloved “Inglorious Basterds”, “Django Unchained” contains all the elements of a classic Tarantino picture, for better or worse. There is excellent acting, an eclectic soundtrack and a great mesh of movie genres. The film is also a total vanity project, filled to the brim with excess. Tack on the extreme content issues, and you have a film that will please ardent fans while leaving everyone else disappointed for one reason or another. Unfortunately, Tarantino’s hand remains firmly in the cookie jar.
Violence: Extreme / Profanity: Extreme / Sex/Nudity: Extreme—includes fully nude woman and full frontal male nudity
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.