Review: Django Unchained

There are few directors in the world today, or even ever, whose name carries with it instantly recognisable traits that have people eagerly awaiting their next film, or even applying the name to films the filmmaker had nothing to do with but are stylistically similar. So when a new “Tarantino” film bursts onto the scene there is an extremely high level of expectation that goes with it, both in terms of its quality and its style. And with that expectation Django Unchained ticks the boxes. Punchy dialogue? Tick. Brutal violence? A blood dripping tick. Being completely badass? Tick. Balls to the wall fun? Tick. Being a highlight in an impressive catalogue of films? Not so much.

Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx)

Perhaps it’s coming off the back of the alarmingly impressive Inglorious Basterds, but Django Unchained never manages to go past being a Tarantino film and an exercise in gleeful bloodlust. That’s not to say the journey isn’t a heck load of fun. There’s a sadistic truth in Jamie Foxx’s Django announcing “Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?”, at least from an audience point of view. Is it wrong to laugh at a racist have their head comically blown off? Anyone who says yes to that probably won’t be a Tarantino fan anyway, but for the rest of us we can rub our hands together and grin with the enthusiasm of an eight-year old watching Elmer Fudd swallow a stick of dynamite.

Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio)

As the title Django, Jamie Foxx, is very early “unchained” from slavery by Dr King Schultz, played by Inglorious Basterds-scene stealer Christoph Waltz. It’s no different here, Waltz steals the whole film as a bounty hunter who takes Django under his wing and accompanies him on his mission to rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The biggest obstacle in her rescue is the salacious Calvin Candie, an out of type cast Leonardo DiCaprio, who treats the slaves like the dirt of the cotton fields he oversees. DiCaprio oddly suit Candie’s eccentricities as well as his cruelty, making DiCaprio’s first supporting performance in more than a decade one of his best. Unfortunately for him, Waltz has deservedly stolen all the thunder. Samuel L. Jackson as Candie’s fiercely loyal right-hand slave is also fantastic.

Candie, Schultz, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and Django

Foxx however may be the films biggest problem. Django is not your standard hero and his goal is fervently fixed on rescuing Broomhilda and no one else. He’s not going to waste time and energy trying to save the villagers when there’s a princess who comes first. This is not an issue except that Foxx does little to make Django likeable or accessible. He’s not charming enough for us to unequivocally root for him, and doesn’t sell his tenderness for Broomhilda enough for that to be the impetus for audience support. Tarantino’s original choice of Will Smith, who is blessed with easy charm, may have been a better fit.

Broomhilda (Kerry Washington)

There is much much much to enjoy about Django Unchained, but as a whole it doesn’t bite with the cleverness of other Tarantino films. Amongst the endless homages in his filmography, Tarantino has always added his own classic moments, but they seem to missing from this film. Ultimately enjoyable, if a little underwhelming, if nothing else we can be grateful to Django Unchained for allowing the phrase “that’s the worst thing since Quentin Tarantino’s Australian accent”. Oh yes. That happens.

Django Unchained is released in Australia on January 24th

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson

2 thoughts on “Review: Django Unchained

  1. Refreshing to read a searing thoughtful critical critique of this film. Having spent good money in a cinema I wish I’d waited for network showing and then I would have probably switched it over or off after 30 minutes.
    It was brutishly boring – unashamedly offensive and unnecessarily so. Christopher Waltz was brilliant as in Inglorious B, but he under-played his role and second fiddled to a two dimensional and far too overcast Mr Foxx who really could have upped his game for this role but then the script was over written and far too verbiose. The lines drolled on and on and often seemed unnecessary literary overkill. Just in case we hadn’t got it the first time the characters elaborated and elaborated. It was stilted and dreary with far too little understatement.
    DeCaprio was really rather foolish and what the Hell was going on with Samuel L? He over-acted to the point of delerium. His character was simply ridiculous and completely mis-played.
    I was totally unenthralled and bored by this film. Tarantino is so far up his own B’side he has become a parody of himself.
    A parody of a blacksploitation film that itself is a blacksploitation film.
    I could go on and on at how disappointed I was with this film.

  2. I was hugely entertained and more than satisfied with what I got for the price of my ticket. If any of the reviewers with better ideas on how Tarantino might’ve done it actually make their own version of the movie I probably won’t go to see it. Jamie Foxx’s performance provided a nice balance for the movie, given the extravagant portrayal of many of the other characters. It reminded me a little of Clint Eastwood’s Will Munny in Unforgiven – very tight and keenly judged to allow Walz, DiCapprio, Johnson, Jackson, to run headlong with their roles without capsizing the whole thing. If Will Smith could’ve managed that he’s a better actor than I give him credit for based on what I’ve seen him do so far.

    I’ll probably see it again, I’m sure I missed quite a few in-jokes the first time through. That whole scene with the Aussie characters left me a little non-plussed.

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