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Django Unchained - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Django Unchained
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B+

If there's any director with an overzealous penchant for being self-indulgent, it's Quentin Tarantino. But if we must sit through far more of a movie than is really necessary, Tarantino is a good one to have subjecting us to it. He's the rare director who can meander endlessly without losing our attention.

Also, as it turns out, the Western as a genre rather suits him. Of course, this man can't make a movie without turning cinematic convention on its head, and although he doesn't do it to quite the degree here as he did in Inglourious Basterds, he plays with expectations and perception plenty here. This goes much deeper than just a Western in which the central character is a former slave.

Said character is Django (Jamie Foxx), plucked in the opening scene from a chained line of slaves by one Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) because he's needed for his current job as a bounty hunter. Schultz is unusually enlightened for a typical American white man in the 1850s -- which probably explains his being German-born, with a slight accent, and by extension the casting of Waltz in the part. Schultz buys Django solely for the purpose of his ability to identify the criminals he's hunting, but feels guilty about being a slave owner and so makes an agreement with him: once they have killed the wanted men, he'll set Django free.

We get to that point in the story surprisingly quickly, and most of Django Unchained tracks the evolving relationship between these two men, first as owner/slave and then as business partners. Django proves to be a natural at shooting a gun; we wouldn't expect anything less in a Tarantino film. As it turns out, Django is married, and thus begins a quest to find and reunite with his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Eventually they track her down at the plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), where he is looked after by the sinister and suspicious house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson, so darkened and aged that he only becomes recognizable when he speaks).

It's slightly discombobulating as this story unfolds, what with Tarantino's signature humor mixed in with some of the most frank depictions of slavery ever put on film. You won't see any romanticized notions of slavery here. This is not Gone with the Wind. This is the world where slaves might get literally fed to a pack of dogs or get their nuts burned off. Indeed, when we first meet Calvin Candie, he's enjoying a fight to the death between two slave men.

Leonardo DiCaprio hasn't really played a true villain before, but now that he's past that long phase of his life here he looked 14 years old for years and years, he fits the part well. There is some top-notch acting here, both from the likes of DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as Jamie Foxx and to a slightly lesser degree Christoph Waltz (he shone much brighter as the villain in Inglourious Basterds). There's some not-so-great acting too, though; most notably when Tarantino himself shows up in a small part, talking like a goofy Texan. That was just plain distracting. Kerry Washington is excellent, but the part she is given has very little substance -- and what substance it has is provided by Washington's delivery, consisting in large part of speechless facial expressions.

There is some greatness to Django Unchained, but it's not Tarantino's best. It's close, and there's nothing inherently flawed in the storytelling here (unless you want to count the 165-minute run time) -- but he's done better. On the upside, this guy waits so long to put out a new movie, he takes the time to make sure they're all good, and even his "lesser works" are better than many other, far more prolific directors' entire output. This is not perfection, but it's equal parts provocative and entertaining. I'd see it again.

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx get their Tarantino Western going in DJANGO UNCHAINED.

Overall: B+
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