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By Mark Bell | December 25, 2012

Freed by the dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), former slave Django (Jamie Foxx) finds himself working across the South with Schultz as his partner. The two collect bodies and bounties, as Django works towards his ultimate goal of being reunited with his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), whom he was separated from when they were both slaves together. Upon finding that she’s on the plantation known as Candyland, owned by slave-fighting aficionado Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), Django and Schultz set out to not only reunite the estranged lovers, but also legally free her. Only nothing is that easy, especially when Django gains the critical eye of Candie’s house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

Django Unchained is an epic film with a simple and straightforward story that is as entertaining as they come; for all the hyper-explosive and bloody bullet hits, the film shines in its more quieter moments, where an actor like Christoph Waltz can excel in his charm or Samuel L. Jackson can ooze with ill-intent. Even when you know where the film is going, you can’t help but wonder how Tarantino is going to get you there. And he takes you in quite a few interesting directions.

There are moments where Django Unchained feels like Quentin Tarantino’s take on Blazing Saddles, for example, particularly a sequence involving the KKK that plays far funnier than the rest of the tone of the film. Then again, for a violent film taking place in one of the uglier chapters in American history, there are many moments of humor so it’s not outside the rest of the film’s tone so much as it is amped-up in on particular direction. Not to say that Tarantino takes slavery lightly, I don’t feel that way at all about the film, but I laughed or smiled far more than I thought I would have.

And expectations-wise, the film surprised me a number of different ways. For one, it was relatively straightforward for what I’ve come to expect from a Tarantino epic. Sure, there’s a flashback or two, but it doesn’t jump around in the narrative like some of his other films. We get the story of Django’s time with King Schultz, culminating in Django’s bid to be reunited with his wife, and that’s the tale.

Additionally, there was never that one “moment” that was memorable for how much it disturbed me. Reservoir Dogs had the ear scene, Kill Bill Vol. 2 had the eyeball pluck-and-squish and Pulp Fiction had the adrenalin needle, to name a few. For an epic set in the times of slavery, I was expecting something pretty f****d-up and disturbing to come my way but, for the most part, the violence is hyper-real, but it’s hyper-real out the barrel of a gun.

But I don’t mention my expectations to give criticism along those lines; consider them more notes on how this is a Tarantino film, but unlike what I’ve come to expect from the master filmmaker. My expectations not being met in those ways does not mean I didn’t enjoy the film. Quite the opposite, I found it to be extremely entertaining from start to finish. Tarantino’s flourish was ever-present in the dialogue, the hyper-violence and the overall command of the cinematic language (of which he is as much a fan, or even more of a fan, than I am).

The only thing that bothered me is that I never felt any fear for Django’s safety, or suspense that his plans might fail. By the time he and King roll around to Candyland to find Broomhilda, they’re almost like super heroes. Their aim never fails, their setbacks fleeting and their only real losses come from their own doing or decisions, as opposed to the actions of others. Part of me wondered if and when the other shoe was going to drop, but I never really felt they were that vulnerable (even when it turned out that they were).

On the other hand, I felt that Broomhilda was always vulnerable, and perhaps the suspense comes in wondering if Django will be able to save her from her Candyland Hell, or if he’ll be too late. Also, as far as emotional triggers go, Samuel L. Jackson pokes the f**k out of them. I know folks will want to look at DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie as the villain, but in the end he’s only as evil and devious as the times would suggest or allow; he was a slave owner who thought his slaves less than human. In that time, he’s a bastard but he’s probably more common than not. Jackson’s Stephen, though? He was flat-out rotten for reasons that are hard to fathom, and an a*****e with the best of the worst.

Overall, Django Unchained is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining epic from Quentin Tarantino. For a film that’s just shy of being three hours long, it never felt bloated; every sequence seemed to have its place, and at the right pace. When the film ended, I was ready for more.

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  1. Amy R Handler says:

    I agree that it never felt glutted at almost 3-hours, and that’s saying something. And not for nothing, Q did win an Oscar for his screenplay!

  2. IT UP says:

    —Tarrentino goes from one capstone approved,
    PC ‘outrageous’, ’90’s Show’ after another.

    With his latest —MANDINGO—- meets —-BLAZING SADDLES
    he moves on –to a ’70’s Show’.




  3. Mark Bell says:

    Right, Graham, because everything you ever wrote for us came in perfect. I’m keeping “more quieter,” as opposed to your issue with “more quiter” (do I need to copy edit your comments; if you’re going to call someone out on something like grammar or punctuation, you better be spot-on yourself). “Expected” was just a miss, which I’ve now fixed so… thanks.

    I liked the movie. You didn’t. Get over yourself. And welcome back.

  4. Graham Rae says:

    One other thing. I may have spelled ‘titular’ wrongly in the first post here, but would offer you my copy editor skills for stuff like: ‘more quiter’ and ‘I was expected something pretty f****d-up…’ Seriously. Ten minutes of copy editing saves a lot of embarrassment. Quentin’s majesty and genius deserves nothing less.

  5. Graham Rae says:

    Couple of other things. Bugger it. While I am here. The film could have been doing with AT LEAST an hour cut out of it. And I confess to enjoying Leonardo DiCaprio a lot in it; in some ways he played his old pal, the extremist painter Joe Coleman.

    And that truly is I have to say about this worthles cinema abortion, you will be glad to know. Least the cinema was only 3 blocks away. Chicago is cold to walk around at this time of year.

  6. Graham Rae says:

    One of the worst, stupidest, and most pathetic films I have ever seen. Wee Quentin will never be black, despite his pretensions towards it; his dark-skin-pigment is a figment of his under-active cinema-obsessed imagination. He laughs at all the wrong things, has no concept of reality WHATSOEVER outside of crap Z-grade movies, and needs to, quite simply, retire.

    Sam Jackson’s unconvincing turn as an Uncle Tom house n****r (hey, if whiteboy Tarantella can use the n-word a million times, so can I) was tiresome and stupid and anachronistic and pathetic, the rap soundtrack as Foxx leaped through the air with two guns like he was in a John Woo film was laughable, and, ultimately, really, the true beating heart of this shitty film was the Nazi guy from Inglourious Basterds (don’t know his name and don’t care) who was more interesting than the bland and vapid itular character himself.

    The ahistorical and cinema-fantasy (can you say ‘Mandingo fighting’?) elements in this film are kind of fascinating, in that they exactly mirror the mentality of a great many of Tarantula’s fans in this country: stupid, ill-educated, no real grasp of the short history of the USA, brains afloat with a vapid toxic sociopathic mix of s**t exploitation films and snatches of slavery history and rap and John Woo and gory gunshots and wiggerism and general complete and utter f*****g horseshit.

    I remember a cartoon from the early 90s from Film Threat which was a drawing of Tarantino sleeping. The thought bubble above his head was a black version of him with an afro and the words ‘Sweet Quentin’s Badass Dream’ in it. NOTHING has changed since then; in fact, the pathetic lazy sociopathic wanker has only gotten WAY WORSE. One of the worst, most vapid, most-blah films I have seen in many a year; only the proud haughty beautyfuel black woman kicking around in Candie Land (or however the f**k you spell that utterly ridiculous name, rivaled only by the stupidity of the ‘Dr King’ trope) saved this from being a TOTAL waste of $7.50 last night.

    In my humble opinion.

    Just as well I don’t review films for a living. Can’t lie well enough.

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