Film Review: Django Unchained

Django UnchainedWhilst Lincoln examines the subject of slavery from a historical point of view, Django Unchained comes at it with a much more bombastic, satirical approach. But would you expect anything less from Quentin Tarantino, the man who has a penchant for the elaborate and whose last film, the superb Inglorious Basterds, rewrote World War II with Adolf Hitler being machine-gunned down in a movie theatre?

Django Unchained has a linear, single-story narrative, which is somewhat of a departure for Tarantino, and tells the tale of freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to free his wife from the clutches of vile plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

It’s difficult to pigeon hole any of Tarantino’s movies and this one is no exception. At face value it seems like a western, but even Tarantino himself doesn’t refer to it as that, instead calling it a “southern”. Despite that, there’s plenty more at play here, as is Tarantino’s inclination to beg, borrow and steal from just about every corner of the movie world; at the heart of the film is part buddy movie, part love story.

The staple Tarantino elements are all there: over the top violence, contemporary soundtrack, and oodles of witty dialogue. However, none of that dialogue would mean anything without some stellar performances to pull it off, and there are plenty of those here.

Christoph Waltz is, once again, imperious, his knack for making the grittiest of dialogue sound like beautiful poetry is a real joy to behold. Samuel L Jackson also shows that given the right material he can own a part unlike any other as the equally hilarious and abhorrent slave Steven. It’s Leo Dicaprio, however, who really stands out. Calvin Candie marks the first time DiCaprio has played the bad guy and he does it with true menace and complete and utter conviction. Jamie Foxx on the other hand as the titular Django doesn’t quite have the same screen presence as his co-stars. Too often he’s overshadowed and doesn’t have the conviction and bite the role requires.

One thing that the film does suffer from is a running time that’s about 30 minutes too long. There simply isn’t enough story there to warrant such length and there are a number of scenes which wouldn’t have been missed if they’d been left on the cutting room floor. There is a much neater, more succinct film in there somewhere but Tarantino seems to allow a little too much self-indulgence at times.

The theme of slavery getting the Tarantino treatment may not sit right with some and this is indeed thin ice the director is walking at times (casual use of the ‘N-word’ is rife throughout), but he never falls through it. Above all things, Django Unchained is a hell of a lot of fun and shows a further willingness to explore serious subject matter but in the only way he knows how.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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36 thoughts on “Film Review: Django Unchained

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Rousing, explosive, outstandingly written and performed, this is Tarantino as I know and love him. Good review.

  2. ckckred says:

    Nice review. It was a great movie, despite some minor flaws like the extended climax and Tarantino’s cameo. Tarantino is a really consistent director and no one makes movies like he does.

  3. Tyson Carter says:

    God damn thursday cant come soon enough, and I’ll finally get to see this!! Happy to see another high score 🙂

  4. Hunter says:

    I agree with you about the run time. Otherwise though, I was surprised how much I liked it. This was my first Tarantino film and I wasn’t sure how it would go because I have a very specific threshold for onscreen violence but I was okay!
    I’m still mad that DiCaprio didn’t get nominated for this…. (grrrrr!!!)

    • Your first Tarantino? Wow, you’ve got some awesome watching ahead of you! Should you so wish! The violence wasn’t actually too bad to be honest, only the Mandingo fight really made me cringe. You might not like Kill Bill though if you’re not a fan of violence.
      Also totally with you on the DiCaprio nomination, or lack thereof. I don’t know if the Academy just didn’t want to pick two actors from the same film but I’d personally have chosen DiCaprio over Waltz.

  5. Mark Walker says:

    Good write-up Chris. Glad to hear from another fan of it. I considered a 4.5 rating but as it didn’t really know how to end properly, I notched it down to a 4. Still, it’s a helluva lot of fun.

  6. thedavidryan says:

    Top review as usual. The movie was great but far too long in so many pointless areas. Good work!

    • Cheers man! Apparently Tarantino’s regular editor Sally Menke died a couple of years back and this is is first film without her (I think). She may well have chopped it down to size. There were a number of randomly odd scenes and shots that simply weren’t necessary. Still bloody loved it though.

  7. Kim says:

    Top notch review – agree with everything you said! Shame about Leo being overlooked yet again. 😦

  8. sati says:

    I agree about Foxx and the movie being too long. I thought that with better lead actor it could have been really great, but Django was just…bland. Nowhere near other protagonists from Tarantino’s movies for me. Loved Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson, though and the film had many fun moments.

    • Apparently the role was written with Will Smith in mind and I think that could have been pretty interesting. I think Jamie Foxx did OK but I thought some if his lines should have been delivered with a bit more oomph but just got lost. He has too much of a lyrical voice for such a part in my opinion.

  9. Great review. Christoph Waltz is superb here and I loved the first half of the film, but can’t help feeling it lost it’s way a little towards the end. I agree with you that it feels overlong and would benefit from being about a half hour shorter. Nice cameo from Jonah Hill and a great soundtrack – might have to add it to my wishlist!

    • Thanks Natalie. It definitely does lose its way a bit, particularly after the big shoot out. It almost seems like Tarantino didn’t quite know how to end it. I enjoyed the Jonah Hill cameo too, that whole scene is just brilliant, and the soundtrack is superb – I downloaded it yesterday and have had it on repeat today. Most of it is just nicked from other films though, there’s only about 4 original songs on there.

  10. ruth says:

    Hi Chris! I still can’t believe this movie was longer than The Hobbit. Interesting that there are two films w/ the subject of slavery nominated for Oscar. I’ll be renting this as the violent content might be too much for me on the big screen.

    • Hey Ruth! Yeah it is a strange coincidence two films with the same theme are nominated. I wonder if that’s ever happened before. The violence wasn’t actually as bad as I thought it was going to be, but if it’s something that you feel you might not like then perhaps a rental would be best.

  11. Great post, man. Definitely agree on Foxx and the long runtime.

    “There is a much neater, more succinct film in there somewhere but Tarantino seems to allow a little too much self-indulgence at times.” Very nicely put. Totally agree.

  12. Lara Klein says:

    Story is interesting.

  13. Popcorn Nights says:

    Nice one Chris. I read elsewhere (another blog I think, but can’t remember which one) that Tarantino apparently finds it difficult to edit and can’t reign himself in, which is a shame. I don’t really mind films running a long time, as long as it’s necessary. Agree about Jamie Foxx too; I think he’s OK, but he’s overshadowed by the other three main stars.

    • Cheers Stu. His regular editor died in 2010 and it seems that she was clearly a big part of the final film as this felt very messy at times. I wouldn’t say that the running time for this film was too long, but rather the story was too short for the running time.

  14. vinnieh says:

    Excellent review, I’m so excited to see this film.

  15. Not sure I am quite as generous… Check out my review on politicoid if you fancy hearing my view…

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