"The 'D' is silent, hillbilly."
Django Unchained (2012) is Quentin Tarantino's legendary revenge tale epic that's a tribute to the spaghetti westerns of the past, especially the work of Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Leone. Django Unchained tells the story of a slave named Django who is freed and becomes a bounty hunter in order to save his wife who is also a slave living in bondage.
First off I gotta mention the cinematography of this film. Tarantino's been shooting films like they were spaghetti westerns for a while now, but this is the film that he can really show off his technical knowledge for how those films are made, and he really nails it. It's a blast to watch and adds an extra level of enjoyment if you know what you're looking at!
Not all the cameos in this film are good (more on that later) but there's a cameo for Franco Nero, who originally played the title character in the classic spaghetti western Django (1966), that I really enjoyed. It's not intrusive, it's not too distracting and it makes sense in the story. It's very natural, and those who know who he is get a laugh out of it.
I usually don't find the way that Quentin Tarantino writes dialogue or the excess blood in his squib shots too distracting, but I have to say that they seemed a little out of place in this film. I understand these are directorial flairs and the film isn't meant to be a strict historical portrayal but I still found them more distracting than in most of his other films. Not entirely though, I like how both the excess gore and his quirky dialogue are used for humor primarily. I just think it's a fine line and this film doesn't walk that line as well as possible, but it's excusable for how well it does work (more hits than misses).
The second half of the film is a lot longer than the first half, or I should say it feels a lot longer. This is because almost an hour before the actual end the film, the story is pretty close to wrapping up entirely. I'm surprised this occurred, and I think that the reason it's so jarring is just because of how close the story comes to actually wrapping up nicely (before it all going to hell). This leaves some awkward pacing but if you watch spaghetti westerns you know that pacing is not something that those films did well, so part of me actually wonders if this was actually intentional? Also because I personally have see all of Tarantino's films, I knew that there was no way he could end the story as cleanly and nicely as it was about to end, so I actually (believe it or not) found some added suspense in trying to figure out what the hell was about to go wrong. I understand that a viewer who hasn't seen a lot of Tarantino films wouldn't have that same experience, but I really doubt I'm the only one who felt that way.
I also have to mention that I felt the amount of cameos in this film were really distracting. I literally rolled my eyes at Quentin's cameo when he came on screen, luckily his cameo (and his accent) isn't as bad as it was in Death Proof (2007), but I also have to question the inclusion of Zoë Bell in this one. She appears in a group of (male) plantation overseers, with a red scarf over her face! On top of that there's at least two close ups on her and the first one is even played like "pay attention, this person's going to do something later!" and then she just gets shot in the end like all the other overseers! Maybe she actually did something in a cutscene, and I understand the need to put a friend or collaborator in as a cameo but two shots for someone who is distracting (I highly doubt there was any female overseers 2 years before the civil war) and doesn't do anything, so there's absolutely no need to put two close ups in the film.
Okay so this last part is nitpick/preference but I would have put more in the story about (Django's freer and bounty hunting partner) Dr. King Shultz. There seems to be a part missing when later in the film it's revealed that a major flaw of his is that he's a big-time sore loser. I would have liked to see at least some hint of this earlier in the film. Also was there was some interesting scenes earlier in the film that made me think they were actually going to go deeper into the morality of killing for a living, but the film didn't follow up. It just kind of stops mid-thought on "well these are bad men so it's alright." I would have like to see Shultz talk about what drove him in to this peculiar profession or even why he felt he'd be decent at it.
Tarantino's been doing this violence/humor thing for a while, and it's safe to say he's gotten quite good at it. This is a very dark and violent story but you will find yourself laughing at things that are not actually things to laugh at! This takes a high degree of skill, and actually kind of blows my mind at how well it is executed.
Tarantino's known for his soundtracks, by now it's something you can look forward to in his films. The soundtrack for this film is unique in that historically Tarantino usually doesn't use original music produced for his films in his films (except a bit of RZA and Robert Rodriguez's work in Kill Bill). This film just shows that he can blend new and old music together in a very seamless way (as if you really had any doubt) but this film blends them together better than probably any other films do. The film still offers the tributes to (while reinventing) older music and soundtracks that Tarantino is known for, but also adds new music that somehow fits really perfectly withe he old stuff. All the while somehow the film keeps that unique spaghetti western feel to the soundtrack that is so crucial to those films. I definitely reccomend going out to buy this soundtrack.
But what I really appreciate about Quentin Tarantino is how inventive and creative he is. You can see it in all of his work, he doesn't settle for the standard way that film and stories are told. Sometimes he's not as successful as others but at least he's pushing the boundaries and you can actually see him trying new things in each film. Django Unchained is another fine example of that creative filmmaking that I love so much, even down to something so simple as using a mashup in a film soundtrack (mashup's are a big thing in music right now, how come no one uses them in films?!). I really like how the Tarantino doesn't pull any punches and in showing the graphic nature of daily life during this time. He puts in scenes that really even trump the horror you were expecting to see walking into this film. For example, the "mandingo wrestling" scene is absolutely gruesome and very tough to stomach, and yet it makes the perfect introduction to the resident "devil" of the film, Calvin Candie. A very bold and yet effective move.
Here's another film where I have to mention how good the actors were in it. The whole cast was good actually, but I need to mention Christoph Waltz as the quirky German dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz, Samuel L. Jackson as the crotchety head house slave Stephen, and the very evil and menacing (and yet kind of dumb) Calvin Candie played by the truly great Leonardo DiCaprio. All of these actors really bring something special to their respective roles that really makes the film magical to watch. Yet none of these roles are too far out or that different than other things you've seen them play before, which actually adds a lot to the feel that these roles are actually perfect for these actors.
The last thing I absolutely have to mention is the story. I loved the story of Django Unchained. Tarantino paints a modern legend of a hero mixing spaghetti western & blaxploitation. This is something that throughout history storytelling has really been all about, but somehow we've seemed to lose that in recent times. What I love about this film is it fits that ancient archetype and yet it feels really fresh and new. Some of this is by using things and nods from other films, and not only spaghetti westerns but even little things like Django and Shultz's team-up/friendship really has it's own Butch and Sundance vibe to it. The film even seems to refuse to fall on to simple hero clichés like crapier hero tales we see in film today *cough*Tron: Legacy (2010)*cough*, Djano's journey really feels like he walked through fire and back to get what he wants by the end of the story, and there's nothing more satisfying in a story that that feeling.
Even the little nitpicky things I found with Django Unchained (2012) can't touch a film as entertaining and well crafted as this. There's probably only a few movies in a person's lifetime that are as good as both a tribute and a tale as Django Unchained. 5/5 Stars.
Check out this original minimalist poster design I did for this film, click through to buy prints/posters etc. OR check out other movie posters I designed here. :)
Want more Tarantino goodness? Check back all month for my Tribute to Tarantino! I'm going to begin by running through his films starting from the beginning, so be sure to check back!
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