Quentin Tarantino gave us a new movie for Christmas (he did this once before with Jackie Brown) last year, bless his heart. It’s a western movie called Django Unchained. It’s been obvious from Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds that Quentin has had an itch up his ass to do a western and this is it. I finally got to see this movie this past weekend (I’m a little late on the draw) and my feelings are mixed but mostly positive.
The movie is about a black slave named Django (an obvious nod to the Italian film series which featured unrelated protagonists with the name Django) who suddenly finds himself free at the hands of a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Chrstoph Waltz) who needs Django to locate three marks. Django accepts the offer and the rest of the film follows the two’s misadventures as they kill people get fat paid. Schultz makes Django an offer: if Django will help him through the winter then Schultz will help Django to find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington, who also played Foxx’s wife in Ray).
I’m not a big Jamie Foxx fan. I find him obnoxious in general for some reason, this is my personal hang up. But I will admit the man is immensely talented, and it’s fully on display here. The transition from timid slave to free man to cold-blooded killer is a great performance. The film is very brutal and requires a great deal out of Foxx for the abuse he takes and he is just as believable as a bad ass as he is when his life is in peril. Watching Schultz gently guide Django how to act as a freeman and teaching him the art of the kill are some of the best scenes in the movie and gives their characters a softer edge.
Some criticisms of the film (especially by Spike Lee, who hasn’t seen it) is that the film trivializes slavery. This simply is not true. It shows the act for how horrible it is. The flashbacks to how Django and Broomhilda are branded are especially heart-breaking and set to an amazing track, “Freedom” by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boyton (as always the soundtrack kicks ass). Schultz acts as the voice of reason for all that is wrong with slavery and those who endorsed it. He gives an epic monologue that drives this point home towards the end of the film that cemented Waltz’s deserving to win the Golden Globe award for best supporting actor.
There is a nice little scene where Django shares a drink with the original Django (Franco Nero). It serves no purpose to the move the plot forward, it’s just a cute scene to wink and nod at film buffs. Tarantino works in a few other little Easter eggs as well, such as name checking the film 100 Rifles at one point. Quentin can’t help but flex his nerd muscles. There are a few neat cameos from veteran character actors. Don Johnson looks great in a Col. Sanders type as the plantation owner “Big Daddy”. Samuel L. Jackson does something I’ve never seen before: he actually acts in this film. His character Stephen is by turns hilarious and despicable.
I have to admit I didn’t like this movie as much as Inglorious Basterds but it’s light years better than Death Proof (not that I hated that movie). The movie doesn’t have the usual crackling dialogue that put Tarantino on the map and the pacing of the film is off. It felt much longer than it actually had to be. The gunfights also felt a bit silly. The violence towards the slaves feels real and brutal, and then you see someone get shot and they blow up like a water balloon or fly back like a they have a rope tied around them strapped to a 747 in the midst of take off. The tonal shift in regards to violence felt out of place. Another criticism I have is that Walton Goggins, one of my favorite actors, is in the film and is one of the main reasons I wanted to see it. Horror fans will remember him as the cop killed in the long ass crane shot from House of 1000 Corpses. The promise of Quentin’s dialogue coming out of his mouth was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, he only gets one good line in. Which is a damned shame, because he is phenomenal as criminal mastermind Boyd Crowder on the best show you’re not watching, Justified. Goggins also stole the show on hands down the best TV show ever, The Shield as corrupt cop Shane Vendrell. When the movie ended, I wasn’t sure if I really liked it or not but as it has settled on me over the past few days, I have come to the conclusion that I did like this film a lot more than I realized and I have half a mind to go back and see it again this weekend. It’s not Tarantino’s best film in my opnion but it’s also my opinion that all of his film are awesome and (despite my misgivings) Django Unchained is no different.