When a film is mentioned as being directed by Quentin Tarantino, you have a pretty good idea that this film would spill enough blood to make a vampire weep and will end is some huge bloodbath. On both accounts, Django Unchained more than meets the criteria. At two hours and forty five minutes long, it’s a hefty film to sit through and unfortunately longer doesn’t really mean better. That’s by no means to say that this film isn’t good, it’s just that I found my interest waning slightly.
The plot to the story is pretty simple. Django (Foxx) is given the promise of his freedom from his life of slavery by Dr King Schultz, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz, if he helps him in identifying a group of brothers who have a bounty on their heads. After Django helps King to identify and capture the three brothers King gives him his freedom. He also offers to help Django go and rescue his wife, Broomhilda from De Caprio’s plantation owner Calvin Candie.
This is a very difficult subject matter to tackle, especially by Tarantino, but he manages to do so by both bringing the darker humour to the subject matter while balancing some very real issues of the time. This is best shown after Django and Schultz have tracked down and killed the brothers mentioned in the opening scene. Unfortunately, this is in the deep south where attitudes towards the African Americans is still firmly in the mind-set that they are chattel to be traded. The plantation owner rounds up, which can only be described as a pre-cursor to the Klu Klux Klan. Tarantino then pokes fun at them with a running gag about their white hoods. It shouldn’t be funny, but for some reason you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. Needless to say, Django and Schultz do get their revenge.
Up to this point, the pacing of the film had been very good. You were seeing the character development of Django from Slave to Hero on a mission. Its only when you meet the villain of the piece does the film begin to slow down a tad. For me too much time was spent at Candies plantation with very little happening. The ride up to the place was interesting and you get to see different facets of both Schultz and Django when they both witness the terrible torture of one of Candies runaway slaves.
I sat and I persevered with the slowing pace, hoping for the big payoff. And man! What a payoff it was! When Candie realises their whole cover story about trying to get a slave for some fights is just a ruse in order to free Broomhilda, the pace of the film accelerates rapidly. One minute, Candie is very calm only to flip in an instant. He threatens to kill Broomhilda then and there if Schultz doesn’t pay him the money he was going to pay for the fighter. For a good few minutes you can feel the tension, wondering who will break first. Candie, Schultz or Django. As is expected when everyone is on edge, someone o is pushed too far and we witness a classic Tarrinto shoot-out. It ends with Django apparently out-numbered and out of ammo. I suspected that Django would pull out a surprise and save the day…..
But no. And this is another reason why the film seemed to be just slightly too long!
No, instead we are “treated” to a rehash of near enough the last two hours of the film, but in a much more condensed version. The only good thing I found about this was the comeuppance of Samuel L Jackson’s manservant Stephen.
This is very much typical Tarantino fare and it is an enjoyable film, don’t get me wrong. For me, this is down a lot to Waltz, who I have loved as an actor since first seeing him in Inglorious Basterds, another Tarantino flick. This is a very different role for him as he plays the hero of sorts, rather that the villainous role in Water For Elephants and the aforementioned Inglorious Basterds. He seems to “get” what Tarantino is looking for an manages to play the role of bounty hunter with a so many layers.
What is also really good about the film is the natural chemistry between Foxx and Waltz. They seem to play off each other really well. Foxx makes this character his own and you can really get a feel for his plight throughout the film. Schultz instructs Django to play a role, like an actor would in a play. If he wants to get close to Candie and his wife, then he has to believe he is that person if he wants to survive in this hostile world. Since watching this film, I found that this role was originally intended for Will Smith, but it’s difficult to think of anyone else in the role.
One of the most surprising actors in this film was Leonardo De Caprio. This is the first role I have seen him in where he was the villain. He is the pantomime villain and I half expected him to start twiddling his moustache when he was particularly evil. Now, I’m not sure if this was the way the character was written or if it is just how it was played on screen, but you see that Candie may have been “tutored” into this very racist and degrading way by Jacksons character. Stephen is almost like the royal advisor, influencing the king to act in such a way. Again Jackson and De Caprio work really well together and the characters are almost a flip side to Django and Schultz.
Tarantino usually writes very strong female characters, but in this instance they are very one dimensional and stereotypical to the traditional characters in this genre of film. I understand that this is Django’s film and his journey, but it was rather disappointing not to have his usually kick-butt, sassy female character.
Overall I did enjoy this film but as I stated earlier it was a bit too long and for me it didn’t quite hit the mark of Inglorious Basterds.