‘Django Unchained’: Review

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There’s nothing I look forward more to seeing in theatres than the newest Quentin Tarantino movie. Being a huge fan of his, I’ve looked forward to Inglourious Basterds throughout 2009, and largely throughout his career as it was the often rumoured project that finally transpired. I had heard mostly great reviews for it, but a few mixed ones, so I was a bit reticent. Coming out of it though, I knew I had seen a masterpiece, second only behind Reservoir Dogs in Tarantino’s filmography (Yes, even better than Pulp Fiction) for me. 2012 found myself in the same boat, Django Unchained was Tarantino’s oft-rumoured spaghetti western, him being so much inspired by the films of Sergio Leone, the music of Ennio Morricone, and everyone else within that genre at the time. Not to mention my favourite actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, was playing a bad guy, it couldn’t get much better. This time I walked out deeply satisfied and content with the long wait and the film’s quality, but lacked that feeling of being blown away or claiming it to be an instant-masterpiece.

This is where I go into damage control. There were several elements of the film that did indeed blow me away, or were created only the way Tarantino could, and I loved them. Unfortunately, a few of these elements never coalesced into a unified whole, mainly due to pacing issues and length. Now, I never complain about the length of a film and nor am I complaining about it here, just how everything was segmented very weirdly. Especially the latter third of the film where the climax was supremely long, but falling out from it there was still a lot to wrap up, which was achieved through a multitude of short and stunted scenes that contained a multitude of false endings and just oddly paced scenes. This is really my only chief complaint, that the film felt a lot longer than its 2 hr 44 min or so runtime, not because of a lack of quality or engagement from the content, but just a weirdly plotted film. If it makes any sense, the earlier scenes were more drawn out to ratchet up the tension, like Tarantino always does (see Inglourious Basterds for the prime example), while everything past the climax was shown in short bursts and lacked flow. Again this is Tarantino, all his films are going to be long, and play with format, and a re-watch could just as easily change my mind about this.

I thought I had other complaints, but I guess that’s it, just some issues with the pacing post-climax. I’m not the biggest Jamie Foxx fan, and outside of Collateral, which I loved and loved him in, I haven’t been really impressed with him. Being a huge fan of The Wire I was beyond excited when it sounded like Idris Elba was going to play the part, and was largely disappointed when Foxx got the role instead. It took me awhile to come around on the Foxx casting, and he indeed is very good in the film, not great or Oscar-winning calibre or anything, but I ended up very happy with his portrayal of Django and see little fault in it. I didn’t think Christoph Waltz could ever top his role as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and nor does he, but he comes damn close and he’s absolutely perfect in this film. Unlike in “Basterds”, Waltz is playing a good guy, and infuses so much charm and cool into his character that you never would’ve thought he played one of the evilest Nazi’s in film history. I loved watching his character and his relationship with Django and it’s by far one of the biggest things I looking forward to in a re-watch. DiCaprio pretty much matched expectations with me, which might sound like a bad thing, but like Tarantino, I hold DiCaprio to the highest standards when it comes to their films. It’s great to see DiCaprio tackle a truly villainous character, as in my memory he hasn’t really played a villain, and though he’s not labeled as a baby-face actor that much any more, he certainly hasn’t played a character as dark and deep as this. DiCaprio does wonders with Tarantino’s dialogue and truly flourishs delivering some of Tarantino’s trademark monologues.

I could go on and on talking about this Tarantino film, or any of his really, but I’ll end it with basically the only thing you probably care about, Tarantino’s style. I know that Tarantino gets criticized lots for not having his own style “per se” but just copying others,  like in Kill Bill with the Kung-Fu aesthetic and in Death Proof with the “grindhouse” feel.I don’t entirely agree and could write a whole article on it, but I think in doing so Tarantino has developed his own style, by of course amalgamating from others and using techniques of his idols, but seems to have created his his own beast. There are many classic western shots or techniques, such as the framing of Jamie Foxx in classic hero stances, like Eastwood always would be, as well as the ever-used quick snap-zoom into a close-up. The music, just like in every other Tarantino film is phenomenal, from the unmatched Ennio Morricone to current music from John Legend among others. Usually I don’t like modern music in period films, but it’s just another Tarantino flourish that works with the colourful and often cartoon-like nature of his films. To me, the music of spaghetti western’s are just as important as any other formal element to set the mood and create an atmosphere, Tarantino obviously knows this and sculpts it quite elegantly.

Django Unchained brought with it lofty expectations, like all Tarantino films, but he never seems to be phased by this and consistently delivers a terrific film, and even if he might not always top his previously films wholly, within certain elements he definitely does. “Django” is classic Tarantino with the artistic flourishes, the soundtrack, the colourful characters, the long tension filled scenes, and the epic monologues, but through all this he manages to nicely poke around the issues of racism in the 1860s and how it seeps through everything. This is by no means a message film or one that solely sets out to imprint a strict message in its viewers, but uses it as a backdrop for this revenge story, but never straying away too far from the horrors of slavery and the monsters it created and the people it suppressed. This is the last of Tarantino’s long rumoured movies that has been actually made to the surprise of me and many others, after Kill Bill, Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds. I can’t wait to see what he tackles next, as Tarantino always pours his heart and soul into everything he does, the least I can do is be there on opening day.

8.5/10

And, just for fun, My favourite Tarantino films ranked:

1. Reservoir Dogs

2. Inglourious Basterds

3. Pulp Fiction

4. Kill Bill Vol. 1

5. Django Unchained

6. Jackie Brown

7. Death Proof

8. Kill Bill Vol. 2

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