Movie Review: Django Unchained

Time to kick off a new year of reviews. The latest from one of Hollywood’s most successfully quirky directors has finally been released in Australia – two days ago in fact.

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Starring:
Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Director:
Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Basterds)
Rating: MA15+
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A new Quentin Tarantino movie is usually something of an event these days. The infamously subversive lover of genre film only has eight full directing credits to his name, and each one of those movies tackles a different pocket of cinematic history with an enjoyable brashness that only fleetingly conceals a deep reverence for the medium. His eighth, the recently released Django Unchained, is no different in this regard. While it may be flawed, the film ticks all the boxes that make a Tarantino flick so unique and so enjoyable. In my book, that makes it a winner.

The plot of Django Unchained, set in the south of the USA just before the Civil War, follows the titular slave Django on a quest to track down and rescue his estranged wife Broomhilda. He is given the opportunity to do so, after some prior adventures, by the eccentric hitman-disguised-as-a-dentist Dr King Schultz, played with relish by the Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz. His turn as a contemptuous Nazi in Tarantino‘s last film Inglorious Basterds won him that gong, and it turns out his good guy is just as watchable as his bad. Jamie Foxx matches Waltz in the lead role, hitting all the right notes as the badass protagonist with a relatable soft side.

His course for revenge against the people who mistreat his slave wife leads him and Schultz on a bloody trail to Candyland, the plantation of the well-off Calvin Candie. Leonardo DiCaprio lends a simmering malice to the role that is outside the parameters of his usual screen characters. For all his effectiveness, however, he is eclipsed by Samuel L Jackson, who shows up late in the piece to give a brilliantly vile performance as Candie’s soulless elderly house slave Stephen. Never have I ever hated a Sam Jackson character so much, but the actor disappears into the role completely.

As a Western, Django Unchained rolls along with a sense of adventure that occasionally reaches dizzying heights of fun. Some of the dialogue is also genuinely hilarious in more than a few places. A couple of unexpected cameos, a cracking script and some typical Tarantino nods to other media certainly contribute to this. But as a film about the horrors of slavery, it can be hard to watch at times. Candie’s introductory sequence, for instance, features two shirtless slaves fighting each other to the death for sport. The ‘n’ word is also thrown around with abandon. This is ultimately in service of the director’s aims for the film, but it won’t be palatable for everyone.

Unchained is also a pretty gross offender on the length side of things. At two and three quarter hours, even the joys of Tarantino‘s notoriously talk-heavy directing style begin to stretch a little. This isn’t helped by the film’s clearly segmented structure, which focuses its first half on entertaining wish fulfilment hijinks and its second on tense, drawn-out dialogue exchanges that, while engaging, fall somewhat short of those in Basterds. As today is Australia Day, I feel obliged to mention that Tarantino inserts himself into the movie late on, playing an Australian alongside Wolf Creek‘s John Jarratt, but his accent is terrible and the whole scene could quite easily have been cut for the film’s benefit.

By the end of Django Unchained‘s glorious closing set-piece, however, most of the movie’s flaws can be forgiven. Without indulging in spoilers, I can safely say it will go down among my favourite Tarantino action scenes of all time. It carries weight despite being outrageously silly, which few directors other than QT can pull off, and it caps off what is ultimately a pretty good movie. The man is still in form.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Great performances, genuinely funny in places, true to Tarantino’s style
Bad:
Very long and occasionally disjointed
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515/110A M A Z I N G

One response to this post.

  1. I almost think the bad accent was deliberate. Like Don Cheadle’s Brit accent in Ocean’s Eleven…

    Reply

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