DJANGO UNCHAINED

Quentin Tarantino has never been a director to hide his influences. He embraces them and that’s never been truer than in DJANGO UNCHAINED. Part spaghetti western, part blaxploitation film.. Django steals the best from each genre. The movie is set in the south just before the Civil War. Christoph Waltz plays a dentist turned bounty hunter who buys Django (Jamie Foxx) from slave traders in Texas. They strike a bargain. Django will help Waltz’s bounty hunter track three men and in return Django will be set free. That resolution comes fairly quickly with a lot of blood spilled along the way (Sam Peckinpah is smiling down, knowing his slo-mo blood spurting lives on in such capable hands). Then the movie turns into a rescue mission. Waltz agrees to help Django help rescue his wife from a Mississippi plantation owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Like all Tarantino movies, it sometimes is too much in love with its own dialogue, but the film never drags and is endlessly entertaining. The banter is sharp and witty and a lot of times side-splittingly hilarious. There’s drama, comedy and lots of action, gunplay and death. You got to give Tarantino this much, he doesn’t spare his audience the realism and brutality of the power of guns. Blood and bullets fly everywhere. And the only one who doesn’t seem to pay a price for it is Django himself. The acting is beyond great. Waltz seems born to deliver Tarantino’s words. Foxx is menacing and funny. Samuel L. Jackson is brutally hilarious. And DiCaprio, who almost never plays a villain and never does comedy shows an exceptional gift for both. Add in a fantastic soundtrack and score and it all adds up to another Tarantino masterpiece. — Alan Yudman

For all the gunshots that find their marks and trigger all the exploding blood sacks, this gory revenge tale is a dreadful misfire. A sprawling, jelly-limbed epic wanna-be, it’s the Quentin Tarantino of DEATH PROOF, not the Tarantino of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, long and flabby. Plus, it provides uncomfortable evidence that QT may be a five-trick pony, his power to surprise and delight brought low by repetition. Things like the sudden, unexpected violent demise of a major star, multiple film history references, the casting resurrection of actors from the era to which the director is paying homage (or is that parody?) — all resurface here with little of the freshness that so captivated us when he first burst on the scene. Tonally, it’s all over the map, an inconsistent hodgepodge that includes one comic scene about a KKK-type raid that could have come from BLAZING SADDLES, and another (the only moment of honest emotion in the movie, though it lasts for mere seconds and has no place in the rest of the film) involving a boy’s shock at the death of his Pa. A long set-up introducing us to Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx leans more lightly on the subject matter than the even longer middle section, where Leonardo DiCaprio (better than usual, but still a boy in a man’s role) darkens the mood with what’s meant to be a growingly suspenseful vise-tightening toward the inevitable grand shootout. It takes forever. (Contrast it with the gripping, breathless opening to BASTERDS — the Jews hiding in the basement — and see how length can undermine tension.) But then comes the shock that we still have about another third to go, in an extended coda during which all steam is lost. Waltz gives the best performance, the only one really who manages to be more than a caricature. Foxx has one note, and it’s flat from the get-go, little more than a soft-voiced scowl. The crowd-pleaser here is Samuel L. Jackson, but it’s all F-words and doddering exaggeration. Expectations are always high for Tarantino, whose output is small. Here, they are not met. — Jeff Schultz

Django Unchained is Tarantino’s best movie since Pulp Fiction. “Basterds” was a hit or miss affair that took itself too serious for what it was. Kill Bill had QT’s signature snappy writing but was waaaaaay too long and didn’t warrant two movies. This one is just a great ride, something that would have made a better fit in “Grindhouse” than “Death Proof”. Foxx is fantastic, Waltz is mesmerizing, and Samuel Jackson is hilarious and hiss worthy as Stephen, a real “snake on the plains”. But it’s Dicaprio who steals the show. For the first time ever it seems, Leo plays a true villain and chews up every second on screen. Leo gets some of the best lines, including a chilling show and tell explaining his theory on the lack of intelligence in blacks. Leo’s acting, Tarantino’s words, a saw, and a skull are all that’s needed to create what will go down as another classic Tarantino scene. Everyone in Django seems to be on the same page and the results are on screen. Welcome back Quentin, we missed you! — Stormy Curry

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