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Overall Rating
4.41

Awesome64.1%
Worth A Look: 20.51%
Just Average: 10.26%
Pretty Crappy: 2.56%
Sucks: 2.56%

3 reviews, 21 user ratings


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Django Unchained
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You Happy, Lance? Now Stop Pestering Me. . ."
5 stars

"Django Unchained" is a film that offers viewers the chance to witness a three-hour celebration/exploration of a genre that has, for the most part, largely been out of favor for the last few decades and features two of the most popular movie stars around playing arguably the most hateful characters of their entire careers, untold gallons of gore decorating virtually every available surface and what may be more uses of what we shall daintily refer to as the "N word" than in any other movie ever produced in the history of Hollywood. Such a volatile combination of ingredients would send most ordinary filmmakers running for the hills, or at least the nearest and blandest formula project imaginable, and if any of them was foolhardy enough to attempt to make something out of them, there is an excellent chance that the results would land somewhere between the unwatchable and the unspeakable. However, if there is one thing that Quentin Tarantino has proven time and time again since he burst on the screen two decades ago with "Reservoir Dogs" and changed the face of American film two years later with "Pulp Fiction," it is that he is no ordinary filmmaker and as a result, "Django Unchained" is no ordinary film. Like its creator, this is a movie that is loud, weird, darkly funny, ridiculously profane, borderline obnoxious and impossible to predict where it may be headed at any given moment. It is also a bloody and bloody brilliant epic that is absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish, as compulsively and cheekily entertaining as anything that he has done to date and one of the very best movies of the year.

Set in 1858, "Django Unchained" opens with the jarring sight of a group of slaves being marched through rough weather and rougher terrain by a pair of sleazo traders in order to be sold. In the middle of one memorable night, their grisly procession is interrupted by the arrival of a traveling German dentist by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who is searching for one particular slave who used to be owned by the nefarious Brittle Brothers. That would be Django (Jamie Foxx) and Schultz makes an offer to buy him right there and then. The traders refuses, things quickly go very badly for them and soon Schultz and Django are riding off into the night. As it happens, Schultz is a bounty hunter in pursuit of the Brittles but has no idea what they look like and asks Django for help. In exchange, Schultz will teach Django the fine art of bounty hunting, pay him a share of the bounties they collect and, most importantly, help Django reunite with his beloved wife, the impeccably-named Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), from whom he has been forcibly separated since an ill-fated escape attempt resulted in them being brutally whipped by the Brittles before being sold off to different owners. Django proves to be a quick study and after dispatching the Brittles single-handedly, he and Schultz roam the South collecting bounties while searching for the whereabouts of Broomhilda.

Eventually, the two discover that she has been purchased by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a third-generation slave owner who presides over the sprawling plantation known as Candyland. Knowing that simply offering to buy Broomhilda outright will do nothing but raise suspicions, Django and Schultz decide that the best approach is to pose as a duo looking to purchase slaves to engage in bare-knuckle fights to the death with each other and then butter Candie up enough to convince him to maybe part with the seemingly unimportant woman as part of the deal. Candie may not entirely believe everything that his guests are telling him but he is sufficiently intrigued to hear them out and consider making a deal with them. On the other hand, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who runs the activities of the other slaves with a ruthless efficiency that outdoes even his own master, is far more suspicious--he doesn't believe a word of what these visitors are saying and is convinced that they are indeed up to something. In true genre fashion, what happens from this point on involves plenty of spent bullets and spilled blood. However, in true Tarantino fashion, what happens from this point on involves any number of unanticipated twists and reversals that are best left to be discovered for yourself.

When it was announced that Tarantino was doing a western--especially with a title inspired by the 1965 Sergio Corbucci classic featuring Franco Nero that inspired no less than thirty knock-offs in its native Italy over the years--many people probably assumed that it would prove to be a straightforward revenge film filtered through the particulars of a favorite cinematic genre along the lines of what he did with such previous efforts as the "Kill Bill" saga and "Inglourious Basterds." That may be the movie that the ads and trailers are selling but Tarantino has greater ambitions with "Django Unchained" than that. At its heart, the film is not so much a revenge thriller as it is a genuine love story. Yes, it is brutal and bloody as anything to hit the screen in the while but for the most part, it is a tale of a man who just wants to be reunited with his wife and who will go to whatever lengths he has to in order to achieve that goal, something as basic and primal as the greatest of classic myths. In one of the very best scenes, this is underscored by having Schultz, after hearing Django's story and discovering the name of his beloved, relate to him the legend of Siegfried and cap it off with the remark "When a German meets a real Siegfried, that is kind of a big deal."

The film also allows Tarantino the chance to explore the history of slavery, focusing on how the shameful part of our collective past has been depicted cinematically over the years and the ways in which its legacy continues to haunt us today. For a long period of time, during the rare times in which Hollywood movies told stories that involved slaves in some way, they tended to be fanciful, sugar-coated visions like "Gone with the Wind" or "Song of the South" that bore little relation to the reality of the situation. (That isn't to say those are bad movies, just ones that aren't especially accurate or edifying.) In recent years, there have been attempts to present a more realistic depiction of slavery in projects like "Roots" and "Amistad" but those efforts, however well-intentioned they may have been, have come across as so self-satisfied in regards to their worthiness that it feels as if the filmmakers are exploiting the subject in order to win awards and acclaim for themselves instead of telling a compelling story. "Django Unchained" involves slavery but it isn't about Slavery and since it doesn't have that onus to it, it has a free hand to depict it in a more offhand manner that more accurately conveys the day-to-day humiliations and horrors of the time than the comparatively antiseptic likes of "Amistad," where the only feeling that came through was Steven Spielberg's desire to appoint himself the chief chronicler of another part of history and reap a bunch of awards in the progress. For example, a normal movie on this subject might include the still-volatile word "nigger" once or twice, mostly to establish who the villain of the piece is meant to be, and then drop it so as not to offend some viewers. Here, Tarantino deploys it so many times in his dialogue that after a while, it manages to lose its shock value completely--by reducing it to just another thread in the verbal tapestry, we are suddenly taken back to a time in which it was that commonplace and that realization makes for a far greater impact than if he kept it to a minimum. (In one of the slyer in-jokes, the only one of the numerous bad guys who doesn't say the word at all is the one played in a cameo appearance by Tarantino himself.)

As the story shifts to Candyland in its second half, the story unexpectedly turns into an allegory for contemporary tensions in the African-American community, specifically in regards to those who have allegedly sold out their brothers and sisters in order to make more comfortable lives for themselves. At first glance, we are clearly meant to see Calvin Candie as the major bad guy of the piece but as things progress, that turns out to not be the case after all. Sure, he is as hateful as can be but for all of his pontificating, you never get the sense that the concept of slavery means anything to him--as a third-generation slave owner, the concept has been ingrained to him to such a degree that it is a part of life that is as natural to him as the muggy heat outside his plantation. When he gets upset about the possibility of losing Broomhilda, it is with the petulance of a small child threatened with the loss of a toy more than anything else. In fact, it is old Stephen and his unhesitating willingness to brutally mistreat his fellow slaves and play the simpleton for his master when required simply to protect his own elevated position in the household, who proves to be the true villain of the piece when all is said and done. This is an admittedly nervy thing to and there will no doubt be those who object both to the notion of the main bad guy in a movie about slavery being one himself and the idea of such a polarizing concept being handled by a white storyteller but Tarantino pulls it off and gives the film an additional heft that demonstrates his increasing maturity as a filmmaker.

That said, "Django Unchained" also works because it is just plain fun to watch, more so than virtually any other movie to come out this year. Fans of the genre will relish all the various homages to films running the gamut from the Sergio Leone classics to the Bob Hope comedy "The Paleface" through countless verbal and visual quotes, cameo appearances from a wide array of B-movie favorites (including, as the opening credits put it, "The Friendly Participation of Franco Nero") and incredibly arcane in-jokes (there are a couple of scenes that closely resemble moments from Tarantino's previous films in much the same way that Howard Hawks used to repeat favorite bits from film to film). Those lacking the deep cinematic background can still relish Tarantino's flair for creating extended set-pieces filled with tension, humor and crackling dialogue and he continues to grow more and more assured as a visual storyteller as well. Most surprisingly of all, the film is oftentimes flat-out hilarious and manages to mine humor from the most unlikely of sources. At one point, another plantation owner (played with ferocious glee by Don Johnson) goes off in pursuit of Django and Schultz with the aid of other members of the local chapter of the KKK and without going into detail, let it be said that what comes next is so laugh-out-loud funny that Mel Brooks will probably be kicking himself for not having thought of the joke himself when he was putting together "Blazing Saddles" back in the day.

Because he writes such memorable dialogue and creates such memorable characters, Tarantino now has the pick of the litter of actors fairly champing at the bit with the desire to play those parts and deliver those lines and this film is no exception. In the central role of Django, Jamie Foxx is simultaneously tough as nails, funny as hell and touchingly vulnerable--this is by far the most entertaining performance that he has given to date in a film. Playing what is by far the most hateful role of his career, Leonardo DiCaprio is equally compelling in the way that he subverts his movie-star charisma to play the courtly cretin Candie--he manages to sum up an entire life of underserved privilege borne on the backs of his fellow man with nothing more than the simple offer of "white cake." Samuel L. Jackson has the most challenging role of the bunch--he is playing someone who is literally without a single redeeming characteristic--and the result is a true high-wire act in which he never takes a single incorrect step and the payoff is sure to go down as one of his great performances. However, despite all the competition, the best performance of the bunch is the one contributed by Christoph Waltz as Schultz. Waltz, of course, became an international star thanks to his hypnotic portrayal of the chief Nazi in Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and in this film, he steals the show once again right from the first scene, an extended bit that deserves comparison with the justifiably famous opening sequence of that earlier film. Put it this way--if Waltz hadn't already won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, that particular contest would be all but over as of now.

Jaw-dropping and eye-popping (literally, at one point), "Django Unchained" is a prime example of the glories that can result from a master filmmaker working at the peak of his powers. Unlike most movies today, this is a film that is thrillingly alive--you can practically feel its pulse throbbing throughout--and watching Quentin Tarantino demonstrating his excitement over the possibilities of what can be achieve in the cinema is enough to jump-start the enthusiasm of even the most jaded moviegoers. Yes, there are some people who will no doubt find it to be too long, too violent and not properly reverential towards its ostensible subject matter and will reject it for those reasons. Too bad for them because this is the kind of go-for-broke filmmaking that causes people to fall in love with the movies in the first place. Early on in the proceedings, we get a flashback in which one of Django's previous owners, just before administering a brutal beating, tells him admiringly "You got sand, Django." Trust me, "Django Unchained" has more sand than "Lawrence of Arabia."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22582&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/24/12 22:51:29
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User Comments

3/09/14 Monday Morning Tiresome compared to most QT movies, but hugely better than the Kill Bill flicks. 3 stars
1/31/14 Charles Tatum Memorable, but overlong. 4 stars
9/27/13 Derek Diercksmeier Tarantino's finest achievement. 5 stars
4/21/13 DK Audacious and thoroughly enjoyable American cinema 5 stars
4/16/13 Marlon Wallace Film is too long. Jamie Foxx is its weakest link and violence is not consistent. 2 stars
3/28/13 Aaron Great movie, but some of the dialog on slavery was as clumbsy as midochlorians 4 stars
3/19/13 Dan long? yes. another qt revenge tale? yes. still awesome? yes. 5 stars
2/05/13 Nick Friggin'Awesome. He shoots! He scores!!! I have the movie in my head the entire day. 5 stars
2/05/13 alice WOW ! Tarantino did it again ! 5 stars
1/20/13 Lenore Francois Entertaining film with a great cast, but QT went over-the-top with shooting scene. 4 stars
1/15/13 Alex Great fun; Sam J amazing but too long & CW essentially played his Ingl Bstrds role again 4 stars
1/11/13 Joe Fishy anyone catch the girl on crutches running away? hella image! 4 stars
1/10/13 Langano Great film, but not close to his best. 5 stars
1/10/13 KingNeutron Unsettling and suspenseful, kinda rough on the poor Aussies but well worth a watch 5 stars
1/07/13 mr.mike action movie fan is right on the money. 3 stars
1/06/13 Simon shame QT gets so carried away and one-liner-y,cuz its his most deeply layered work 4 stars
1/06/13 Martel732 Another infantile,RACIST,ANTI-WHITE, "revenge fantasy" from Quentin Whiggertino 1 stars
1/06/13 Man Out Six Bucks Django kills innocent bystanders like any American fascist 3 stars
1/01/13 PAUL SHORTT VIOLENT BUT ENTERTAINING AND STYLISH 4 stars
12/30/12 Marty Waltz, DiCaprio fantastic. Fun, unique, graphic, unsettling. QT too dumb for 5 stars as usu 4 stars
12/26/12 action movie fan disappointing-good acting and perversly funny dialogue but too long and slow 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  25-Dec-2012 (R)
  DVD: 16-Apr-2013

UK
  18-Jan-2013 (18)

Australia
  24-Jan-2013 (MA)
  DVD: 16-Apr-2013




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