Django Unchained (2012) – 4/5


Gloriously violent, brutal, messy film full of just about every Quentin Tarantino trope imaginable, and maybe a few new ones, though who can tell what’s truly his and what he’s just “borrowed” from other films anymore. Still, the movie is entertaining and pretty well written for the most part, save the first half hour or so which is all over the place narratively and tonally; even the editing is pretty poor. Not sure what he was thinking starting his movie like that. It’s completely ridiculous and self-indulgent and just plain uninteresting. It almost lost me, frankly. Luckily, once the actual plot starts and Leonardo DiCaprio’s crazy character/plot line is introduced, things get wild real fast, in the best possible way, mostly.

Beginning aside, the film is very well structured. Things feel organic, characters are interesting and fun to watch, nothing feels forced, and the eventual resolution, though a bit “much,” is satisfying. Some scenes here and there are downright brilliant actually, namely the **SPOILERS** ridiculously suspenseful “dinner” scene with DiCaprio, and the hilarious scene near the end when Jamie Foxx convinces his Australian captors to set him free. Tarantino’s cameo in it was a nice touch, too. The man has quite the “explosive” presence on-screen, let me tell you. Har har. **END SPOILERS** Just very well written, well crafted, well acted scenes. It’s also extremely disturbing at times, especially the scene when we’re **SPOILERS** first introduced to DiCaprio’s character as he’s watching two slaves fight to the death. Eek. My stomach was doing flips the whole time. And the dog ripping scene, of course. Yuck. **END SPOILERS** Sick stuff. Very hard to watch. But what do you expect from a Tarantino film? Lollipops and butterflies? No. The thing is going to be brutal, offensive, and hard to watch. It’s part of his charm as a filmmaker.

The acting is also pretty strong, from just about everyone actually, but specifically, and surprisingly, Samuel L. Jackson. He is so good here, so charismatic, so convincing, so hilarious; I haven’t seen a performance from him this good since, well, never. He steals every scene he’s in. It’s amazing what he can pull off when he’s actually required to act. Yes, some people might find it offensive, but they shouldn’t, especially given the **SPOILERS** revelation made at the end, which is actually sort of foreshadowed at one point earlier in the film during the scene when he tells DiCaprio’s character what he thinks is really going on. **END SPOILERS** A great, great performance. Who knew the man had it in him? Not me. Foxx is also really strong here; another shocker. I didn’t think he could pull it off, but he does, very convincingly. And yes DiCaprio is also pretty good, though it’s more of a flashy, scenery chewing role than anything legitimate. Still, it’s a fun performance. I enjoyed it. And Christoph Waltz, yeah, he’s good. He’s very limited, though.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It has a strong story and some great acting, and some downright brilliant scenes. It also does some things with the genre that I’d never seen before, though calling it a Western is a bit of a stretch. It’s more of a revenge/rescue flick with a couple of horses and gunfights thrown in for good measure. Though the film is good, the beginning could have used more focus, better editing, and less talking, especially the Ku Klux Klan scene, ugh. The film ultimately feels a little off, I don’t know. It’s very good, just off somehow, like a lesser Tarantino. Can’t quite put my finger on it. I also wouldn’t have minded never having had to see **SPOILERS** Jamie Foxx’s penis **END SPOILERS** in all its glory, but surprise, there it was. Great, thanks Tarantino. Cool scene though, very disturbing and well shot, but god, my eyes.

A word of warning: though it’s a good film, it’s also somewhat offensive, and, arguably, quite racist and off-putting. I don’t just mean the language, either; all of Tarantino’s films contain some degree of pro-white, anti-black/hispanic/minority element to them that percolates just below the surface. It’s extremely subtle, barely even there, but it exists, whether conscious or unconscious on Tarantino’s part. And this film is no exception. DiCaprio’s speech aside, there’s the very strong implication here that the notion discussed briefly in the film of **SPOILERS** black people being generally inferior to whites and Foxx’s character being the 1 in 10,000 exception is true. **END SPOILERS** It’s sort of played for laughs at first, but reiterated by Foxx himself in a bit of a throwaway line at the end.

Also, all the white people in this film are extremely, unflinchingly violent, to the point of utter absurdity at times. In this universe, violence is authority, violence is superiority, violence is power. And black people have none of these things. They’re passive, helpless, and weak; like dogs in some ways. And what does Foxx have to do to finally get what he wants at the end? He has to **SPOILERS** take matters into his own hands, to “grow up” if you will and start killing indiscriminately, without an ounce of mercy, fairness, or compassion. Just like the white man. **END SPOILERS** To succeed, he must act white, think white, be white. Then he’ll be considered equal. Because otherwise, he’s just a black man, and in Tarantino’s universe, a black man is no better than an animal, one that belongs in chains.

I could be wrong, but this is the impression the film gave me; that Django only becomes unchained because he’s that rare, 1 in 10,000 black man who can abandon his “subservient” animal nature and become like the violent, dominating white man. And thus, racism. But, again, I could just be seeing things.

Otherwise, good movie, from a strictly entertainment point of view. Morally, not so much maybe.

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