Django Unchained

I remember hearing Quentin Tarantino talk about wanting to make a Western way back in 2009, and at the time I wasn’t sure if it would ever come to fruition. Here we are in 2013 and I’ve just seen Django Unchained, as Tarantino continues to try different genres. The plot is pretty simple really, Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) is a dentist turned bounty hunter who needs the help of Django (the D is silent, don’t you know?), a slave played by Jamie Foxx to track down his latest contract. Django takes to the bounty hunting business better than expected and ends up, through a montage of sorts, becoming Schultz’s deputy, in return Schultz promises to help Django find and free his wife from the ownership of mega-plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Guess what? It’s not as easy as it seems.

From the moment the opening titles kick in and the soundtrack fires up you know that you are watching a Tarantino movie, he’s got the Spaghetti Western vibe down perfectly. Then again I never really expected anything else, if nothing else he does have attention to detail. Jamie Foxx is quite good as Django but at times I found him a little too softly spoken and restrained. Christoph Waltz is fantastic, picking up from where he left in Inglorious Bastards and for the first half of the film he was thoroughly engaging. The only let down was in the second half of the film where his character is sidelined a little. It did make a nice change to have a hero with a European accent. Speaking of a nice change it was great to see Leonardo DiCaprio playing a villain, since I saw the movie I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of when he’s done that before and at the moment I’m coming up with nothing. Calvin Candie, the owner of the wonderfully named Candie Land, was a good villain, on the surface he was a business man and a gentleman but there was always an air of menace and uncertainty just below the surface.

Oh I can’t be the only person that liked the idea of a former dentist going up against ‘Candie’?

There were some good faces popping up in the supporting cast, including a surprise inclusion (for me at least) of Jonah Hill as part of a lynch mob in a scene that while good fun would have perhaps felt more at home in Blazing Saddles. The dialogue in that scene was undeniably Tarantino though, as the lynch mob stops to discuss white masks that one members wife ‘sat up all night making’. It was great to see Walton Goggins popping up as one of Candie’s henchman on the plantation, even though he was used fairly briefly he was still extremely watchable. I just hope that Goggins will start to crop up in bigger roles soon.

The real jewel of the ‘supporting’ characters, for me, was Samuel L Jackson playing Candie’s head of house Stephen. Sure he plays into pretty much every stereotype you could imagine but he does it with such enthusiasm and you can tell he’s really enjoying himself. The character is, at times, hilarious but I found him to be equally terrifying and possibly the real villain of the film. I mean without him sticking his nose in and whispering in Candie’s ear then the whole plan, which I will come to later, would have gone off without a hitch.

I wasn’t entirely sold on the big plan to buy the freedom of Django’s wife, Broomhilda, from Candie. The plan seems overly elaborate, they decide that he wouldn’t listen to a sensible offer for a single slave and so it would be better to make a ridiculous offer for one of his Mandingo fighters (slaves that he uses in fights to the death for sport) and then tack on a deal for Broomhilda on the basis that she speaks German and Schultz would like someone to speak German with again. Surely it would have been more straightforward to just go and make the ridiculous offer for Broomhilda and have done with it?

The overly complex plan aside I think my only real problem with the movie was the pacing seemed to be a bit off. I found the first 30-40 minutes to be great, but the point from freeing Django to catching the Speck brothers (the bounty that Schultz required Django’s help with) was done and dusted much more quickly than I imagined. What follows, aside from the training montage, was the the planning and set up for the attempt to rescue Broomhilda from Candie Land and that’s where the film really slows to a crawl for me. There’s a lot of time spent on the road to Candie Land and then hanging around at Candie Land where not much really happens. The final act, then comes along and seems to be a little bit rushed.

I wasn’t totally sold on just how unpleasant and cruel The LeQuint Dickey mining company were really, Stephen made them sound terrifying so it seemed a bit out of character for them to not only believe Django’s story but also to give him a gun. Then again maybe they were just so sick of hearing Tarantino’s shot at an Australian accent that they just wanted to end it all there and then.

The violence in the film is pretty full on, but it’s also nice to see action and shoot outs in a film where there isn’t CGI blood all over the place. It was good to see practical, and pretty visceral, action on the screen. When the bullets hit they hit hard and with a generous spurt of red, the final shoot out in particularly is awash with blood and it’s great.

Pacing aside, this is not only a great Tarantino movie but also a great movie in itself. Sure it drags a little in places and it could have perhaps done with being 20 minutes shorter, but at the same time Tarantino generally writes such interesting characters that it’s hard to resent spending a little more time with them. I do wish that Schultz had been given a little bit more to do in the second half of the movie.

It’s going to be interesting to see which genre is going to be next on Tarantino’s to do list.

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