He has been called the king of genre and now Quentin Tarantino has done it again, and done it bigger. Django Unchained is perhaps his biggest play with a genre archetype as he takes the classic Spaghetti Western and turns it upside down into a revenge film of huge proportions. Excellent performances from Foxx, Waltz, and DiCaprio highlight how amazing of a writer Tarantino really is, while beautiful cinematography makes this one of the most pleasing Tarantino films to watch.
Like every Tarantino film what sets Django Unchained from most “action” or “adventure” films is the writing. This is not the standard run and gun type movie following a sadistic Django as he seeks revenge. Tarantino’s writing creates a character, who is driven by an obvious passion for his wife. Tarantino also uses some creative ploys to quickly advance Django from a cautious, quiet freeman to the evil, gunslinging black slaver. The character development felt fast while watching, but in reflection worked very nicely and saved the film from running even longer.
Which brings me to the biggest complaint of the film, it felt slow and sluggish, and much too long at times. A strange and unusual issue for a Tarantino film. Specifically everything after the climatic final battle was much to slow paced. The near-eunuch scene was visceral and painful, but than Samuel Jackson character came in, and it was slow. And felt forced, almost unnecessary. Much to slow. Speaking of slow, Tarantino, I know you will never see this, but please never ever do your Australian accent again. It made the everything up to Django’s “rebirth” nearly unbearable, which is upsetting. That’s not to say everything was slow. The whole first act was well paced and enjoyable. The build up and anticipation to Candieland only made the dialogue driven scenes there more enjoyable and worth it.
I will go out on and limb and say this is Tarantio’s prettiest shot film. Maybe it’s because playing with the genre of Western’s allows you access to beautiful landscapes, playing with candlelight, and silhouettes like no other genre does. The shots of Django and Dr. King trekking through big sky country in the winter can best be described as Ansel Adams in 24 frames per second. They are stunningly beautiful. And frankly I wanted more of it. That’s not to say that the cinematography at the plantations was bad, but just paled in comparison. On the bright side, the set design (or as film theorist like to call it mise-en-scène) in Calvin Candies homes was superb. They set out to create an eccentric man, and well they made him quite eccentric. In all the good ways.
The acting in Django Unchained is top-notch as is usual. Jamie Foxx gives a stellar performance, up to snuff with his portrayal of Ray Charles. The character of Django ad potential to be difficult as Foxx was playing Django who was playing a character. I’m no actor, but I feel like playing a character who is playing a character must be difficult. Christoph Waltz entices my german taste buds just like he did in Inglorious Bastards. This time, he is allowed to be extremely german, so german Dr. King Schultz gets to retell, through what almost becomes shadow puppets the tale of Broomhilda. His character is refreshing, a white man in the antebellum south who despises slavery is rarely seen. Counterpuntal to Dr. King Schultz is Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of the eccentric and evil slaver Calvin Candie. The best part of DiCaprio’s performance with out a doubt has to be his turn for the evil. While giving a speech on the false science of phrenology he slams his hand down on the table at one point he smashed a shot glass, which actually cuts his hand. Causing huge amounts of blood. Which he than smears on Kerry Washington’s face. And her face shows true and real disgust. It really is a disgustingly, amazing scene. Aiding Calvin is the trustworthy, albeit extremely racist, slave Steven played by Samuel L. Jackson. Of all characters in Django this is the one that is perhaps the most controversial. He plays the part of the happy slave to a tea, but then adds in a hilarious comedic touch. Pay close attention to all the faces that Jackson makes, they are just too funny. And of course a special mention needs to be made for the best delivered line in the film as Django is spelling out his name to (as seen in nearly every trailer) he makes mention to te silent D. To which Franco Nero, the original Django from the spaghetti western, responds “I know.” before walking out.
Django Unchained is a great film, plain and simple. But when put up against the gauntlet of earlier Tarantino it does fall flat. The pacing issues doesn’t really let the film shine to its full potentials. And perhaps this has a lot to say about the skill Sally Menke, the women who edited every one of Tarantino’s film before she suddenly died in 2010. Or maybe it’s just the ambition and love for the western genre Tarantino has. He made a film that was too big, he tried to fit in every little nuisance that he loved. But again I have to reiterate it is an excellent film, and one of the best films released in 2012.