Written by / 2/27/2013 / 2 Comments / , , , , , , , , ,

QUENTIN TARANTINO DIRECTS DJANGO UNCHAINED

year: 2012 cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Don Johnson rating: **1/2
Modern exploitation guru Quentin Tarantino serves up historical revenge once again. His last film, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, had the German Nazis getting theirs, and now, with a good German on board (in fact he’s the villain from the last film) we’re out to set things right in the American Deep South, two years shy of the Civil War…

Although the first half takes place on the road from Texas to Mississippi as bounty hunting dentist Dr. King Schultz recruits a slave named Django to help him find three outlaw brothers (Django alone knows their appearance). These are the more spirited and deliciously cutthroat segments as our heroes partner up and, as Django puts it, “Kill white people for money.”

Christoph Waltz
Christoph Waltz (Schultz) and Jamie Foxx (Django) are a good team, and while making mince meat out of their targets, the bloodshed is something to marvel. But Tarantino throws in awkward bouts of humor, derailing the intensity of the moment. One particular scene where a group of rednecks complain about not seeing through masked eyeholes (including a very distracting cameo by Jonah Hill) feels like Mel Brooks clumsily intruding Sergio Leone.

After Django helps Schultz with his job, it’s time for the doctor to aid his more-than-capable partner rescue Django's wife Broomhilda, who resides at “Candyland,” an infamous Antebellum plantation run by the sinister though much too youthful Calvin Candie.

While Leonardo DiCaprio has more than capable acting skills, and savors the gloriously tyrannical racist dialog, there could have/should have been a backstory on why the owner of a plantation looks fresh out of finishing school. For a man who’s supposed to have a lifetime of seething venom oozing from his veins, those desperately piercing blue eyes seem more confused and frustrated than cold and calculating, making Tarantino’s purposely overboard racism more of a crutch than weapon for the DiCaprio character (perhaps Don Johnson, who played a wily brothel owner in a previous scene, could have taken this role… he had the age going for him and with that, soulless eyes that look like he’s seen – and been through – pretty much everything).

But Leo’s not alone. He’s helped along by the most wicked of Uncle Tom’s played by Samuel Jackson, whose spitefully cantankerous Stephen figures things out before his boss. This is a nice role for the QT stock actor, who has sleepwalked through many roles post PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN. Although his feeble mannerisms often slow down the performance. 

Jamie Foxx
The main problem with UNCHAINED is how long Tarantino stretches scenes with dialog. While the actors, especially Waltz and DiCaprio, have a blast with colorful monologues, you’ll often forget there are other characters on board – and most of the speeches fail to serve the plot: the duo pretending to buy Mandingo slave fighters when they really want the girl. And unlike the movies QT grew up on, especially the Leone Westerns, there's never a genuine feeling of being outdoors. Even the exterior shots, especially the opening chain gang sequence, feels contrived and constrained.

With all the deals and discussions going on, the much-anticipated reunion of Django and Broomhilda is lost in the mix. Not even Django’s surreptitious trigger finger (whenever she's treated badly) adds worthy suspense, which, during this overlong stint at Candyland, is very much needed. But there’s not all downtime at the mansion: a particular Candie lecture involving a slave’s skull does successfully perk things up, providing DiCaprio a good five minutes of sheer unapologetic villainy. Then, after a shocking twist, it’s Django alone who must save his girl.

Jamie Foxx, having played a quietly brooding second fiddle to Waltz so far, makes up for lost time with heated gusto. This third and final act involving a group of Australians being duped by Django, who’s learned the art of waxing poetic, is replete with the bare-knuckle action we’ve anticipated (although large chunks of bloody guts flying off each gunshot victim seems like Tarantino doing an overboard imitation of himself). There are some decent montage sequences, but some of the music, especially that of the rap nature, seems too modern for the time portrayed. And the editing feels somewhat limp without QT’s longtime collaborator Sally Menke, who died a few years back: Particular flashbacks and hallucinations are often confusing and awkward.  

An okay ride, much better than Quentin’s last two films (BASTERDS and DEATH PROOF), yet there needed a much tighter/sharper vehicle for our hero to truly deserve the fanfare of the literally explosive finale. 
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2 comments:

  1. I need to watch this movie again because after the first time my feelings are quite on the negative side of things after some ponderings. Now I dig Waltz who basically plays the same character he played in BASTERDS. Exchange an SS uniform for an old west outfit and a nifty beard and you got the same guy. Pretty cool to win 2 Academy Awards for acting in the same manner for 2 different movies. BUT I really dug Waltz in the movie. I can't imagine anyone else playing his role as he does. Let's jump the shark directly to Leonardo. We have Don Johnson in the movie - I think he would have been a much better Candie than Leonardo - he has the years, the gravitas, to pull it off. Leonardo is just Leonardo. Now I actually liked him in INCEPTION, loved him in INCEPTION actually, but not here. Something vital missing.

    As for the N-word controversy which you happen to avoid in your review, there's nothing to it. I just saw RESERVOIR DOGS in the movie theaters in December for it's 20th anniversary. The N-word gleefully spilling from the speakers into the large movie theater in that movie from a bunch of white guys was much more "shocking" than hearing it from anyone in Django.

    Well written review as always but one I'm not in accordance with.

    Whether I liked the movie or not I am glad to see Waltz and Tarantino win OSCAR. It's not like they hand those out for actual quality of work anyway. Quentin and Waltz seemed like the only 2 I cared about being there except I had hoped that FRANKENWEENIE had won, should have won.

    Keep up the great work.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Rewind: Re-Watch...

    I finally got around to re-watching DJANGO UNCHAINED tonight. The Blu-ray disc has been sitting here far too long unopened. Alright my view on the movie has changed quite a bit from the last time I watched it. Probably because when I first saw it in the movie theater I had expected something completely different than what I saw on the actual screen. Whatever the case the second time through I found myself really digging it. I still think Don Johnson would have been a much better Candie and seeing Jonah Hill completely throws me out of the movie actually more than the rap songs.

    Still, I dig it better now that time has passed. And Waltz is still great. Now for the CLOUD ATLAS re-watch.

    ReplyDelete

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