Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Eric Kohn
December 11, 2012 11:59 PM
14 Comments
  • |

Review: Quentin Tarantino's Wild Western Pastiche 'Django Unchained' Is Messy As Hell, But We Love Him For It

Quentin Tarantino's characters are often astonished to find themselves in his intricate universe of references. That's certainly true of Django (Jamie Foxx), a black slave in the antebellum South freed from bondage by German dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schulz (Christoph Waltz) in the opening moments of "Django Unchained," Tarantino's latest erratically fun and uneven tribute to the movies he loves and the discursive writing style he adores even more. The filmmaker's seventh feature plays like looser, dust-caked sibling to "Inglorious Basterds," his last rambunctious attempt to rile up history with a rebellious sense of play. Just as he unearthed "the face of Jewish vengeance" in "Basterds," Tarantino relishes the opportunity to run wild with a symbol of black persecution until the idea loses momentum -- and then, true to form, he just keeps going.

Tarantino's fundamental inspiration stems from the original 1966 shoot-'em-up "Django," a precedent rendered in obvious terms from the opening credits, when the bouncy theme song from Sergio Corbucci's classic spaghetti western makes its first appearance. However, many other films of varying quality were made using the "Django" moniker over the years, and Tarantino's appropriation of the brand smartly capitalizes on its malleability by turning western mythology inside out. At times more in line with "Blazing Saddles" than the grimly bawdy qualities that define many bonafide oaters, "Django Unchained" erupts with a conceptual brilliance from the outset that never fully meshes with its clumsy storyline. Nevertheless, it's a giddy ride.

Tarantino relishes the opportunity to run wild with a symbol of black persecution until the idea loses momentum -- and then, true to form, he just keeps going.

Initially just astonished when he's suddenly taken from captivity by Dr. King (subtle), Django quickly grows into the role of fearless avenger in a racist society that constantly expects him to conform. After accompanying the bounty hunter on a pair of successful outings to take down heartless wanted (and white) criminals, Django accepts the cunning Dr. King's offer to join forces for the season. In exchange, the German offers to help rescue Django's enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington, in a role that asks her to do little more than bat her eyelashes and scream when the occasion calls for it). That arrangement sets the pieces in motion for a riotous buddy comedy in which the duo capture plenty of bounty before hurtling toward their final target, wealthy plantation owner Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio, over the top even by these standards), who keeps Broomhilda locked up in a dismal existence at the appropriately-titled Candyland.

That arc might provide enough material for a tightly wound epic, but Tarantino mostly uses it to establish a general scenario and then push the pieces around. While no longer a villain akin to the Nazi overlord he played in "Basterds," Waltz brings the same mixture of smarminess and verbose delivery that defined that Oscar-winning achievement, giving the impression that his curiously literate persona exists out of time. Django, meanwhile, defines it; Foxx delivers an impressively subdued turn that embodies the rage of the character's generation.

Positioning both of them as vessels for Tarantino's window into western iconography, he loads up their adventures with ample reference points at every step along the way. Aficionados of spaghetti westerns in general and Sergio Corbucci's movies in particular will relish the opportunities to pick through the easter eggs, which range from passing allusions (a cameo by original "Django" star Franco Nero, a saloon named for Corbucci's "Minnesota Clay") to subtler qualities funneled into the story's DNA. (The notion of a German bounty hunter in the Old West only makes sense, I think, in relation to the several spaghetti western roles played by German actor Klaus Kinski; the surname of Django's wife pays homage to blaxploitation hero John Shaft, a rather brilliant means of bridging the gap between the far-reaching genre traditions that Tarantino loves). Overall, it's easy to appreciate the screwy, lurid atmosphere, but even as Tarantino's enthusiasm is characteristically infectious, it eventually grows tiresome.

14 Comments

  • gordon | December 28, 2012 11:01 AMReply

    Great review. You capture the message. But, what about a higher grade?

  • JenT | December 24, 2012 5:21 PMReply

    Now you all are scaring me...what about the Love Story? How do you feel when you leave the Theater? Movies, Well Crafted, make my Spirit Soar!! Peace for All in 2013 & Beyond!

  • ATarentinoFan | December 12, 2012 12:47 PMReply

    I agree with your review, but not your grade.

  • Nathan | December 12, 2012 10:14 AMReply

    I completely disagree with this. The best part of the whole movie is once DiCaprio shows up. From that moment on the dialogue is truly brilliant, the performances (especially DiCaprio and Waltz) are outstanding, and I was just glued to the screen. The entire second hours plays like an extended version of the basement scene in Inglorious Basterds (my favorite part of that whole movie) and the tension is palpable. The character of Calvin Candie is one of the most complicated, interesting, and multidimensional villains in memory. I mean, I love Silva in Skyfall, but he has got nothing on the complexity of this character (who is mostly a businessman). Glade you mostly liked the film, but the part of it you are knocking is the best part because its the most dramatic. Tarantino says a lot about slavery here, but it seems you were more interested in the jokes and the movie references. It is certainly funny, but its also painful as well. Brilliant work.

  • stylemalls.com | December 12, 2012 10:02 AMReply

    very good website:

    ===== http://www.stylemalls.com/ =====

    The website wholesale for many kinds of fashion shoes, like the nike, jordan, prada, also including the jeans, shirts, bags, hat and the decorations.

    WE ACCEPT CREDIT CARD /WESTERN UNION PAYMENT
    YOU MUST NOT MISS IT!!!

  • sd | December 12, 2012 9:41 AMReply

    WOW,Xmas Was coming soon,we suggest hot SELL Product to your purchase:
    LV Coach Handbags ,nike shoes,air jordan shoes,nike shox shoes,gucci shoes ,true religion jeans, ed hardy jeans,coogi jeans,affliction jeans, Laguna Beach Jeans,ed hardy T-shirts,Coogi T-shirts,Christian Audigier T-shirts,Gucci T-shirts,Polo T-shirts,coach handbag,gucci handbag,prada handbag,MK handbag,NIKE NFL JERSEY!
    http://www.shoppingone.net
    Air jordan(1-24)shoes $40
    Nike shox $35
    Handbags(Coach lv fendi gucci) $35
    Tshirts (Polo ,ed hardy,lacoste) $16
    Jean(True Religion,ed hardy,coogi) $30
    Sunglasses(Oakey,coach,gucci,Armaini) $16
    New era cap $9
    Nike NFL Jerseys $20
    free shipping accept credit card payment
    http://www.shoppingone.net

  • sd | December 12, 2012 9:40 AMReply

    WOW,Xmas Was coming soon,we suggest hot SELL Product to your purchase:
    LV Coach Handbags ,nike shoes,air jordan shoes,nike shox shoes,gucci shoes ,true religion jeans, ed hardy jeans,coogi jeans,affliction jeans, Laguna Beach Jeans,ed hardy T-shirts,Coogi T-shirts,Christian Audigier T-shirts,Gucci T-shirts,Polo T-shirts,coach handbag,gucci handbag,prada handbag,MK handbag,NIKE NFL JERSEY!
    http://www.shoppingone.net
    Air jordan(1-24)shoes $40
    Nike shox $35
    Handbags(Coach lv fendi gucci) $35
    Tshirts (Polo ,ed hardy,lacoste) $16
    Jean(True Religion,ed hardy,coogi) $30
    Sunglasses(Oakey,coach,gucci,Armaini) $16
    New era cap $9
    Nike NFL Jerseys $20
    free shipping accept credit card payment
    http://www.shoppingone.net

  • home | December 12, 2012 9:31 AMReply

    Hello,everybody,the good shoping place,offer fashion goods and nfl jerseys
    throwback classic,the new season was coming soon, click in. buy something
    with your and your family!

    ===== http://www.famalegoods.net ====

    Air jordan(1-24)shoes $33

    Nike s h o x(R4,NZ,OZ,TL1,TL2,TL3) $33

    Handbags(Coach lv fendi d&g) $33

    Tshirts (Polo ,ed hardy,lacoste) $16

    Jean(True Religion,ed hardy,coogi) $30

    Sunglasses(Oakey,coach,gucci,Armaini) $12

    New era cap $9

    Bikini (Ed hardy,polo) $18

    FREE SHIPPING

    Accept Credit Card Payment!

    --- http://www.famalegoods.net ---

    A friendship founded on business is better than business founded on
    friendship. Thanks!

  • Saul Berenson | December 12, 2012 2:56 AMReply

    I just saw the movie last week. While I would probably give it a B- or C+, this review is right on the money. While I was most looking forward to DiCaprio's performance, it was really Waltz who made the movie for me. And honestly, that "poorly-cut eyeholes" scene was one of the funniest things I've seen this year. Definitely disappointing but no doubt an entertaining film. Great review!

  • Skippy | December 12, 2012 2:53 PM

    I'm still laughing after just reading about the poorly-cut eyeholes.

  • Saul Berenson | December 12, 2012 2:59 AM

    I also apologize for starting two sentences in a row with "while." It's been a long day.

  • danc | December 12, 2012 2:00 AMReply

    "Reviews are likely to be mixed."
    Really? One of the most anticipated films of the year, and this review--which still awarded a B--is one of only two i've seen thus far (out of about 15) which view it in any sort of negative light. I'm betting reviews will be positive, not mixed.

  • b | December 12, 2012 4:54 AM

    Don't worry it's hard working for the CIA

  • drkingschultz | December 12, 2012 12:16 AMReply

    tarantino delivers!
    the campfire scene is pure oscar bait.
    i can see another one for the awesome christoph waltz.