Django Unchained

Django Unchained is not particularly historically accurate (although you didn’t really need me to tell you that did you?) but it’s set in the late 1800’s, two years before the American Civil War. We’re introduced to our two main characters, Jamie Foxx who plays Django (the D is silent…) and Christoph Waltz playing German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz. Django knows the identities of some bounties that Schultz is tracking, and they some how come to an agreement that Schultz is going to help Django rescue his wife from a particularly nasty and well-known plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) in exchange for his help.

Christoph Waltz and Schultz and Samuel L Jackson as Steven, Django Unchained's most out of place and unexplainable character

Christoph Waltz and Schultz and Samuel L Jackson as Steven, Django Unchained’s most out of place and unexplainable character

Firstly let’s address some of the reasons why Django lost my interest, despite being a long-term, self-confessed lover of all things Tarrantino. Firstly, it is way too long. Too too long. At nearly three hours, the story simply does not fill the time it’s been given. And sometimes I do think it’s in the best interest of directors to be limited by production companies, for example, The Social Network originally was much more lengthy. Fincher was told to cut the running time, and he did. He asked the actors to recite their lines quicker, two birds with one stone were killed here. Firstly the running time was appropriate for the content but also added another frantic quality to the film. So why Tarrantino was allowed to make Django the length it is I do not know. The story is spread to thinly, scenes of dialogue too long and complex as well as being sometimes incomprehensible because of accents and dialect.

There are also some gaping plot holes which maybe I’ve missed or misunderstood, but here I go! One of the main plot holes I don’t get is why Schultz is willing to risk his profession as a bounty hunter to rescue a woman he knows nothing about for a man he’s only just met? He doesn’t appear to have any immediate family, or an emotional history, ruling out the sympathy explanation. I almost feel like it was a strange notion of the single white man helping the poor slave black man whom everyone else treats like dirt, which to me is too simplistic. I was expecting much more from a Tarrantino movie, considering it’s virtually rammed down our throats the specificities of the time period Django is set. Are we really supposed to believe that one man is going against the norm of society without any real reason? Revolutionary ways of thinking and behaving normally have to be backed up by reasons. It’s not like Schultz condemns slavery, freeing every slave he sees, he just helps Django. The only reason offered is that Django can identify some bounties Schultz is after, which to me is not enough to warrant the plan to rescue his wife.

Django plays the part of a black slave owner to spike Candie's interests

Django plays the part of a black slave owner to spike Candie’s interests

As well as some smaller plot holes, why is Django so good with guns, why does Samuel L Jackson’s character act like a jackass, why on earth does he look like he’s been blacked up (he’s already black, but he’s been made up to look like a caricature of a black person?) the biggest plot hole for me is the friction between Django, Schultz and Candie. I’m not too sure (again I may have missed it) but there seems to be a lot of hush hush and secrecy around getting Django’s wife back when there really didn’t need to be. They were always going to strike a deal (they were going to leave before the deal was finalised) and they were always going to ask him for Django’s wife. So why did it explode the way it did?

DiCaprio takes a frightening turn as psychotically menace Candie

DiCaprio takes a frightening turn as psychotically menace Candie

One of my biggest problems is that it is clear that the German references, Schultz’s German nationality, Django’s wife being able to speak German was a plot element to purely justify the casting of Christoph Waltz, which knowing Tarrantino and his fetishisation of particular actors, spoils the suspension of disbelief of the film. It’s not to say it’s impossible to have German characters in the time period, but it’s obvious why they are there.

Having said all that, Django unchained is somewhat a rough gem. Well maybe not a gem… But there are elements of pure brilliance, the mob at the beginning going after Schultz and Django discussing the failings of the eye-holes in their hoods is exceptionally funny. The acting talent on display is exceptional. Jamie Foxx, known more for his action roles, takes a serious turn as Django, hell bent on reuniting with his lost wife. And Leonardo DiCaprio is absolutely spectacular as Candie, he is a terrifying, cocksure, confident monster who watches black men fight for fun and sets dogs on ‘disobedient slaves’. And it goes without saying that in typical Tarrantino fashion, the soundtrack is astonishingly good and the scenes of borderless violence are a spectacle (albeit for the less squeamish amongst audiences).

'You mean you chose to wear that?'

‘You mean you chose to wear that?’

I particularly liked the genre references, the title cards and credits hark back to the golden age of Western films. And the music compliments these references perfectly. Western films started their lives in Spain as spaghetti westerns. And this is probably the most frustrating element of Django Unchained, as it serves as a reminder that Tarrantino is a man who knows his films. He has a real passion for cinema and is usually so expert as transferring his vision to screen. Maybe Django Unchained happened on a bad day?

I felt a little short-changed by Django, after reading all the hype I was really looking forward to it, but unfortunately the final product doesn’t impress and is easily one of Tarrantino’s poorest films. Too long, too many filler scenes, not enough of what we expect from Tarrantino who is probably this generations coolest filmmakers.

And for those of you who are interested my ranking of Tarrantino films…

  1. Reservoir Dogs
  2. Jackie Brown
  3. Kill Bill Vol 1
  4. Pulp Fiction
  5. Inglourious Basterds
  6. Kill Bill Vol 2
  7. Django Unchained

(P.S I haven’t seen Deathproof or Grindhouse so not appropriate for me to rank them!!)

13 thoughts on “Django Unchained

  1. Pingback: » Movie Review – The Kingdom Fernby Films

  2. I hope it’s not too negative! I think maybe I need to give it another chance! Pretty much everyone I spoke to has said ‘seriously, you don’t like it?!’ Maybe I was having an off week, but I’ll definitely give it another go. My magic number is 2 months between viewing, so maybe during down time at Christmas I can give it another go! I still maintain it’s way too long. I definitely want to like it because I’m definitely a Tarrantino-for-lifer.
    I didn’t hate it, and I’ve certainly seen a lot worse films. In fact, I wouldn’t even class Django as a bad film, more a film I didn’t quite get, but can see why others love it.
    When I rewatch, I might post a revised review and see if second viewing matches first viewing!

  3. Wow, a negative review of this film! I haven’t read one in ages! I can’t agree with all your points, though, I felt this film was one of QT’s best in a while (don’t be in a hurry to see Death Proof…. it’s pretty rubbish) and felt the sly humor and overt gratuity was both amusing and subversive in that it underscored just how horrible it must have been back in the days depicted, especially for negro people who had no real hope/chance of escape.

    The film did go on a touch long, I’ll grant you, but as an example of one of the better directors working today, I doubt Django Unchained will be left untouched in any future lists.

  4. Flikgeek, I’m not as eloquent as you but all through the film with the over the top shoot outs with him never getting wounded, to his swagger, I kept thinking, Django is a badddddd mother shut your mouth! John Shaft!

    I also thought the film was a little to long but then I blame that on my ADD. LOL!

  5. Hi Cyndy, thanks for reading! 🙂 I had a think about this when you commented. At first I didn’t understand what you meant, but actually I think you’ve picked up on something there! Shaft is probably the best known Blaxploitation film of the genre and Tarrantino has said himself, he’s a fan of exploitation genres, particularly Blaxploitation. Maybe this could be alluding to that! I did think that Django’s sunglasses were a bit odd, but now you say that, it could be a little hint! Especially seeing as it’s a film about the biggest and most severe exploitation of black people, slavery. it could be a way to link themes in cinema about black people, even nowadays to the slave trade back then!

  6. I guess I get where you are coming from with the reason why Schultz wanted to help Django, I guess a lot of it is implied rather than explicitly stated, maybe I was having an off day when I watched it! Normally in Tarrantino films, most of it is laid out on a plate for you, it’s not the most mentally challenging set of films! Maybe Django was a sort of break from tradition for Tarrantino, and I guess it may have gone against my expectations! I’ll definitely watch it again some day, I always find that on second viewing of a film, a couple of months after the first viewing, I normally make a decision as to whether or not I like it or dislike it! I had that with Prometheus, first time I didn’t like it, but by the third viewing I had actually fallen in love with it a little bit, despite it’s obvious flaws!
    Despite my moaning and groaning about it, I think the cast was brilliant, maybe except Samuel L Jackson’s character (still cant quite get my head around that one!) and the music, simply brilliant!
    Out of interest, how do you rank Django against Tarrantino’s other films?

  7. Hi FlikGeek,

    GREAT REVIEW! I few things I agree with were the whole Django being this crazy good shooter, who can just hit long distance shots despite never even holding that gun before. Totally with you there. In regards to length, sure it may have gone on a bit long, I agree considering I distinctly remember before those scenes with the Australian guys at the end, I thought it was going to end at some point around there. Then continued for a bit. But I was still pretty entertained throughout it and it was one of those lengthy movies that, to me, doesnt feel as lengthy because it is full of action and good story telling. Lastly, I disagree with what you say about it needing to be explained why King Schultz chose Django. At first, it was merely because Django knew the men that Schultz had been after. Then I feel as they travelled to find these men, Schultz realizes despite the common belief at the time being the oppositie, that Django is actually just like everyone else in this world. He has a wife he loves (who happens to be german. which probably might add to why Schultz would want to help) and he just wants to be with her. Schultz clearly being one of the more compassionate men of that era, felt compelled by this and chose to bring him along. He just got so lucky in the fact that Django was a sharpshooter. Ha! Great review though, just thought I would give my two cents!

    LG.

  8. Pingback: 8: Django Unchained | Lazy Goomba

  9. I’ve also discovered the reason why the time ran so long! This is the first feature film Tarrantino made without his editor, Sally Menke, who unfortunately passed away in 2010. It’s a shame really, because she is obviously a hugely talented individual and provides Tarrantino with some much needed boundaries! And it’s indicative of the film industry that talent lies within individuals, not production companies. You can throw as much money as you can at something, if the talent isn’t there it’s not going to work, showing why we should support our film professionals!

  10. Congratulations on the interest being shown for your blog, Wishing You all good things and a bright future.Not sure if I can name you or myself on blog comments, sufficient to say I’ve known you a long time!Apologies for the nit-picking,but could I have clarification of the sentence”Western films started their lives in Spain as spaghetti westerns”?

    • Oops! Written a bit of gobbledegook there! what I was trying to get at was Quentin Tarrantino is very much a fan of Spanish Westerns, rather than the Hollywood Westerns which is what everyone thinks of when you mention the genre! The spaghetti western was massively influential over the genre, and it’s roots were in Spanish filmmaking! Not discounting the success of course of Hollywood westerns! But from looking through Tarrantino’s films, you can see the inspiration is firmly rooted in Spanish westerns! 🙂
      I could be wrong, as I haven’t seen every western film ever made! But to me it seems that way, that he doesn’t necessarily pick a genre and emulates it, he picks a sub-genre and stylises everything he does around that particular sub-genre. Kill Bill is a really good example of that, in that the kung-fu genre is at play, but not necessarily popular kung-fu films, more focussed on kung-fu tv shows! 🙂 And thank you about my blog being picked up! 🙂

      • Maybe a bit of influence from John Ford’s”The Searchers”,the theme of seeking to free a “damaged”(?) woman from evil surroundings,but with very different outcomes,with the final shot of Wayne silhouetted in the doorway, forever the outsider, unprepared to accept his niece back into the fold of family.

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