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Django Unchained

2013-01-18 15:38
 
Quentin Tarantino tackles slavery in the Wild West in a bloody revenge tale that is also his best looking film to date.
Django Unchained
What it's about:

With the help of a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

What we thought:

It was almost inevitable that Quentin Tarantino would make a western. With a career built on films that look back and are indebted to the filmmakers that came before him, it almost seems as if Tarantino has spent his career chronologically working his way back through the iconic periods of cinema. Starting with crime, he moved onto kung fu, then the Second World War and now finally, with Django Unchained, a western. 

Tarantino might be tackling the particularly thorny issue of slavery in the Deep South, but, much like his revisionist approach to World War II history in Inglourious Basterds, he sets his story in the genre of Exploitation Cinema, a tactic which allows for greater licence with its contentious subject matter than a straight approach might. This is a world where violence is exaggerated to nigh cartoonish levels and the characters exist on a similarly exaggerated scale. 

Christoph Waltz's verbose Dr Schultz King is just the kind of exaggerated that I mean. Here playing a bounty hunter sympathetic to the plight of the slaves, this is the second time that Waltz has worked with Tarantino, following his iconic role as the Nazi Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. It's not surprising that the two seem to enjoy working with each other as Waltz's obvious joy for playing with words seems a perfect match for the writer-director who seems to love writing reams of colorful dialogue. Waltz is clearly having fun with his role and it makes him fun to watch. 

The same goes for DiCaprio, who is quite obviously having a whale of a time playing the outlandish villain, Calvin Candie, owner of the Candiland plantation. Candie is a dandified scumbag, all stained teeth and pompous swagger, and DiCaprio makes him both monstrous and charismatic. A dinner table sequence with him, Waltz, Jackson and Foxx, though hardly coming close to the pub sequence in Inglourious, manages to be utterly enthralling and builds to a cracking climax. 

Jackson is positively hateful as the Servant Head, Steven, a man who sees nothing wrong in putting the needs of the cruel slave-masters ahead of that of the slaves. His character is one who has seen what happens to those who rebel against the system (brutal lashings and a spell in a hotbox are some of the punishments meted out here for slaves who don't toe the line) and has decided to save his own skin by throwing his lot in with the winning team (something that should strike pretty hard here given our own history). 

I've seen opinion calling Jamie Foxx, as the titular Django, the weak link of the cast. I can see how some might see it that way but it works as the film needs a solid centre in amongst all the outrageousness and that's what Foxx brings. Foxx plays Django as restrained, a quiet, smart and reserved man, one who who stands tall and with pride. And while he might be a man of few words, mess him with and you'll soon learn why you shouldn't. 

In telling his story, Tarantino doesn't shy from showing the ugly side of slavery or any other opportunities for outlandish violence. From a woman being brutally whipped to an even more brutal fight between two men while others sit on watching, Django can be a tough watch for sensitive viewers. This is a film where bullet wounds don't just spurt blood; they explode in a bloody fountain.  

Still, even as he doesn't shy away from the ugly face of slavery, he wisely injects the film with welcome levity. Not surprisingly, Waltz is the one who provides much of the film's humour but, there are chucklesome bits scattered throughout. Much of this comes courtesy of Tarantino mocking the practice of racism and how staunch adherents to it frequently become fools for its absurd necessities. One example, a scene with a group of bumbling Klu Klux Klan members, might very well go down as one the funniest scenes of the year.  

Django Unchained clocks in at close to three hours long and though your attention will rarely waver, the pacing does feel off at times. It is hugely watchable despite that run time, but even as it builds and builds, its ending doesn't come together as well as it could have.  

Perhaps missing the talents of his regular editor, the late Sally Menke, Tarantino produces a climax, that, while certainly explosive, lacks some much needed punch. A bit of tightening could have helped here. 

It's a minor quibble though as, for most of its screentime, Django Unchained, is fun, funny, and marvellously compelling. With the help of cinematographer Robert Richardson, it's also one of the best looking films of Tarantino's career. If you enjoyed Inglourious Basterds and are a fan of Tarantino's trademark dialogue, then this film is certainly worth your time.

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Add Your Review

(Comments may be edited or deleted at the Channel24 editors’ discretion)
GrahamB 1/18/2013 11:54 AM
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Tarantino is a boss! Quite simply, this is a great film.
Sifiso Mahlaba 1/18/2013 12:22 PM
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This was a great movie. Something a little different from the norm.
Hannelie 1/18/2013 2:21 PM
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I'm a huge Tarantino fan and enjoyed every minute of Django. This movie is in my top 3. Sadly Tarantino's movies are too few and far between. Can't wait for the next one.
Martin 1/18/2013 3:26 PM
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Watchable, enjoyable, better than most other movies out there. But possibly his worst movie so far, and I'm a huge fan who was eagerly awaiting this one. No awesome dialoque, forgettable characters, fantastic acting (Waltz, Jackson) mixed with mediocre (Di Caprio, Foxx). Wouldn't watch it again, have watched Basterds, Bill, Pulp many times...
Justin Hess 1/18/2013 4:57 PM
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@Martin - I don't know about it being his worst (or if Tarantino even has a film that could be described as 'worst). If I had to call out one film for being his weakest, it would probably be Deathproof, which felt entirely indulgent and contrived. Still, there elements about even that film that I enjoy. Django, in my opinion, sits behind Inglorious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill 1 & 2and Resevoir Dogs respectively in terms of a list rating of his films.
Michael Moolman 1/18/2013 8:21 PM
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Seen the preview...I'm hooked! I can't wait to see the full length, which will be next weekend.
Ben 1/20/2013 9:04 AM
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Does this reviewer not have a spell checker? "BastErds"? Really? All the dictionaries I posses spell the word "bastards"... Just saying
Mandy Smith 1/20/2013 9:33 AM
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@Ben - Poor attempt troll. Now go back under your bridge. Love this movie.
grant aubin 1/21/2013 8:10 AM
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Wow, this movie is an absolute blast of pure pleasure. From the opening moment - when Luis Bacalov's intoxiating theme song from Sergio Corbucci's "Django" starts playing - I felt as if I had died and gone to movie heaven. Tarantino has a huge pair of balls and gets all my love for paying homage to Richard Fleischer's underrated and unjustly reviled seventies classic "Mandingo" (maybe someone will finally release the uncut version on DVD and Blu Ray in South Africa. Like the one-of-a-kind "Mandingo", Tarantino's brutal vision of slavery in the pre-Civil War Deep South is far closer to reality than the sanitized fantasy imagery of "Gone With the Wind". I haven't had this much fun in a cinema since I saw Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" on the big screem as a teenager. Christoph Waltz has justly received acolades for his terrific performance as King Schultz, but it's the performances of Di Caprio and, expecially, Samuel L. Jackson which really blew me away. If anyone deserved an Oscar nomination it was Jackson. Playing one of the most desoicable black characters ever seen on the screen, he is even better here than he was as the crack addled Gator Purify in his breakout performance in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever".
Julia 1/21/2013 8:11 AM
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@ Ben, you're clearly not a Tarantino fan as he chose his title to be spelled BastErds actually. Google it dear...
Lanfear 1/21/2013 9:06 AM
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@ Ben - you clearly do not know that the movie's name "Inglourious Basterds" was deliberately spelt wrong, both words in fact. Or you are trolling. Haven't seen this movie yet, doubt if I will even with the good reviews. Was sorely disappointed in the last few Tarantino offers.
Andrew 1/21/2013 9:55 AM
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Great acting from Waltz and Jackson. Enjoyable movie, but maybe a bit too long.
nomsa 1/21/2013 12:33 PM
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i have seen the movie, its so great, my husband won tickets for the launch of it. wow
yusuf 1/21/2013 1:20 PM
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Saw it on Saturday - was quite good but nowhere near Inglorious Basterds - my personal Tarantino fave.
Mbuso 1/21/2013 3:38 PM
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Great flick - Need to watch it a second time before I can startr rating it against Tarantino's projects. Believe the hype.
Nick 1/21/2013 4:31 PM
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Best movie i have seen in a long time, was entertained from beginning to end. All the actors put in a stellar performance.
Headers 1/22/2013 4:08 PM
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@Lanfear - Robert Jordan fan?
Pitso makhetha 1/22/2013 4:44 PM
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I watched The movie íst great will watch it again anytime??
ZAZA 1/23/2013 8:04 AM
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Im not a fan of gun movies but I enjoyed this one... The music in the movie was great I was not a fan of jamie fox bt i enjoyed his acting for the first time.
Lardus 1/24/2013 11:34 AM
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Really enjoyed the movie. Waltz and Jackson were EXCELLENT - best acting I ever saw from Jackson, and you could see both of them enjoyed their roles. Fox's role was the more serious one keeping it all together, so he is overshadowed by the others a bit. Great fun to watch and will be added to my collection.
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