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Django Unchained (2012)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Western Running Time: 2 hrs. 45 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 2012 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Quentin Tarantino Actors: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Laura Cayouette, Walton Goggins

“D

jango Unchained” is distinctly Tarantino. This bodes well for the film’s unhinged style and wild entertainment value, but also intrudes upon the polish that more restraint could have offered. There is a clear ending point and a brazen crossing of that line which affords only pointless repetition and detracts from the overall intensity of an otherwise spectacular conclusion. The vision is still there in all its eclectic glory, seamlessly and unapologetically merging Spaghetti Western homage with splashy Peckinpah violence and richly witty dialogue. No one can accuse “Django Unchained” of being conventional, but of being flawed? That’s a different story.

After running away from the brutal plantation he’s enslaved at, Django (Jamie Foxx) is separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and scheduled for sale to another owner. But his life is radically changed when eccentric bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) unexpectedly purchases him. Becoming partners, Django learns the tricks of the bounty hunting profession from Schultz and the two work through the harsh winter hunting wanted criminals for profit. When Django collects enough money to buy his wife back from Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the ruthless plantation owner that now possesses her, Schultz agrees to help him in his quest. But Candie proves a cunning adversary and the duo must formulate a plan to outwit the shrewd businessman and save not only Broomhilda’s life, but also their own.

“Django Unchained” is ferociously creative, mixing unbridled, over-the-top violence with complexly colorful and hilariously amusing dialogue and richly detailed characters. Tarantino’s comedic salt-in-the-wound bloodthirstiness is matched only by the scintillating, often unexpected, frequently candid, and off subject scripting that he does so well. This time, it never feels too wordy and the verbal exchanges don’t drag on until they’re unwelcome. However, the masterfully energetic and brutally potent conclusion practically repeats itself to add minutes of monotony, ultimately ending on a less pleasing note than if he’d edited out the last twenty minutes. In other words, having two final, gunslinging, detonative, powerhouse showdowns is one too many.

The subject matter will upset some and pique the curiosity of others, especially in relation to the various “facts,” conversations, and roles existing in a particularly dark historical time period. The tone of the film is generally lighthearted, more than once spilling eruptively into encyclopedic revenge fantasy. The associated bloodshed is too goofy to be atrocious. And yet at intervals Tarantino wishes to assert the savagery of slavery-era South – which means he must go to extra lengths to be barbarically ugly; otherwise, audiences won’t stop to absorb the seriousness of the inhumanity. He seems to work against the graveness of the setting by presenting such a cheeky, spunky, buoyant tone. But just as audiences settle into the comfort of hero invincibility, volatile bloodletting or racial tongue-lashing puts everything back into a state of unease.

Despite the shifting tone, the muddle of genres (is this a grindhouse flick – replete with choppy editing, rapid zooms, and outdated title graphics – a Spaghetti Western, or a fantasy comedy?), and the most comprehensive, sometimes jarring soundtrack (perhaps what he’s most renowned for!), somehow the end result is more entertaining than not. A momentary examination of the morality of killing killers peeks through the action, but it is the excessive details that cause the film to slow – not the abundance of anticipated dialogue. Entire scenes are designed to establish elements audiences will already be aware of, while others focus on purposely showcased characters (the most unexplained is that of a cowgirl wearing a red bandana across her face) with stories that are either too cryptic to follow or never fully resolved. Nonetheless, Christoph Waltz once again turns in a performance (largely due to the writing) that is astoundingly likeable and worthy of award consideration – though it’s likely to be passed up due to the similarities to his previous Academy Award-winning turn in “Inglourious Basterds” – and instead turned toward DiCaprio’s singular supporting effort.

– The Massie Twins

 



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