Review: Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' is As Cool As You'd Expect
by Jeremy Kirk
December 25, 2012
We finally have Quentin Tarantino's Western, and it's every bit as violent, profane, and wondrously enjoyable as we'd hoped for. Borrowing the name from the auteur's favorite spaghetti Western, Django Unchained is a rare Western about a freed slave who takes on the system the slave-owners have set up, and as with his films before, Tarantino breaks and bends the rules of classic and familiar storytelling while pushing the envelope with style and subject matter. His latest is just as cool as the rest of his filmography, and though the film doesn't stand out as one of his best, it is certainly an awesome time worth having.
The Django of the title, played by Oscar winner Jamie Foxx, is a slave in the Deep South, living the life of walking in chains until he is freed by one Dr. King Schultz, naturally played by Inglourious Basterds Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. Schultz, as Django quickly learns, is a bounty hunter, and the now-freed slave can aid him in his latest manhunt. This soon turns to partnership, and Schultz ends up helping Django to free his wife, Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from the diabolical plantation owner Calvin Candie, played aggressively and amusingly by Leonardo DiCaprio. Talking and shooting clearly ensues.
The names listed in that synopsis were put in there to address a point with Django Unchained and Quentin Tarantino. The director, whether it was his first film, Reservoir Dogs, or his most recent, Basterds, is a master of the ensemble. He pieces his characters together with such thought, and just as much effort goes into finding the perfect cast. Django could very well have the perfect cast, if such a thing exists, with every player hitting every mark and every line of Tarantino dialogue with the utmost force. Even pairing certain actors together has a hand in how well the ensemble works here, Waltz and Foxx being an incredible buddy-cop team in this campy Old West. DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, as his right hand man, Stephen, play the most amazing charade of an aged couple, you'd think they've been married for years.
And while this amazing cast is doing is job splendidly, Tarantino's story moves ever forward, hitting major plot points when you least expect them and progressing to the tale's next stage sometimes at a whim. Once again, Tarantino likes to break rules, which leads to jarring reactions while viewing the film but a greater understanding of how the storyteller's mind works upon reflection. The left turns come so casually that it would do the film a disservice by examining any of them here, but know that Tarantino, always famous for his truly unique style of story structure, keeps right on changing those rules in his latest film.
The scenery, however, is very new to a Tarantino film. His shot compositions are as interesting here as they've always been, but he's never shot landscapes like this before. Aided by Robert Richardson, his cinematographer on Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained has some truly amazing shots that clearly come out of a great Western. Tarantino and Richardson make the scenery cool, something not often achieved in Westerns, especially the great, Hollywood Westerns of old. Once the image of Foxx riding a horse bareback at top speed, rifle held at the barrel in one hand, the coolness meter goes off the chart, and even Tarantino finds a way of topping his own earlier work. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is probably this film's only rival in being Tarantino's coolest in terms of its visual excitement.
As is the usual, Tarantino also pieces together a stellar soundtrack (get it on iTunes) full of anachronistic choices for this period piece. When 2Pac starts wailing, like all of Tarantino's other broken rules, it takes you out for a moment. You quickly find your way back on board and realizing just how damned cool it really is. Naturally, legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone makes an appearance, but other selections like John Legend's "Who Did That To You?" and Jim Croce's "I Got a Name" are inspired. Rick Ross' "100 Black Coffins," an original song written for the film, is the soundtrack's crowing achievement, though.
Django Unchained, with all of its unexpected swerves and changes in course, ends up losing steam before its final act begins. The director is famous for his long run-times, and at 165 minutes this film could've dropped some fat here and there. However, even then, when the film's climactic moments are playing out, though it's not as exciting as the two hours that came before, it's still Tarantino doing what Tarantino does best.
There's an argument that could be made that the director rests on his style too often, utilizes self indulgent dialogue and off-the-chart violence over and over because that's what he's known for. Though there isn't much of an argument against that viewpoint, it should still be said that Tarantino just being himself is 10 times as exciting and, yes, as cool as most other filmmakers working today. Tarantino has a voice, he has a vision, and Django Unchained is, for all of its entertainment value, a Quentin Tarantino Western in the fullest sense. You asked for. You got it. Now enjoy it.
Jeremy's Rating: 9 out of 10