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Movie Review: "Django Unchained"

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Quentin Tarantino delivers one of the movies if the year with his supremely entertaining western.

Movie Review:

Throughout the entirety of Django Unchained, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. For two hours and forty-five minutes, I was entertained in spectacular fashion by Quentin Tarantino's eight directorial effort. Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz and the rest of the tremendous cast did such an amazing job of bringing Tarantino's script to life, and Tarantino was also on top of his game as director.  

The movie certainly doesn't feel like it is nearly three hours long. The pacing is done so well that the film just hums along without really missing a beat and keeps you engaged thanks to Tarantino's brilliant dialogue. The level of humor seems so much higher in this film than most of his other works. The Spaghetti Western nature of the film leads to some very zesty performances, which are so much more entertaining than straight performances. Because of that, the movie felt compact and never really lagged. The soundtrack, which varied from traditional westerns and ballads to some surprising rap songs, also aided with this. Every move Tarantino seemed to make worked.

The strong performances all around definitely had something to do with that as well. Jamie Foxx compelled as the titular Django, a slave-turned-bounty hunter on a mission to rescue his wife from plantation life. He was equal parts brooding and comical, and he was completely bad-ass throughout the whole movie. While I was watching, I couldn't help about Will Smith turning down this role. That might have been the best thing to happen to the movie, since Foxx really was the perfect man to play Django. He brought so much swagger to this role, something different than what Smith could have. It was intangible, but it made all the difference. Foxx made Django's journey real in a way that perfectly suited the tone and nature of the film.

On the other side of the coin, Leonardo DiCaprio, the primary villain in this film, may very well have been the best thing about this movie. DiCaprio was given such a juicy role in Calvin Candie, the dastardly plantation owner from Mississippi, that was simultaneously repugnant and charming. Just like Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has a way of making villainous, evil men come across as extremely likable in spite of the things they are doing on screen. DiCaprio really went for broke in this. He was as charming as he was in Catch Me If You Can and as volatile as he was in Revolution Road when needed. He moved so seamlessly from that Southern gentleman to the despicable slave-owner/mandingo fighting enthusiast, and man did he play the part just deliciously.

The film's other villain of sorts, Candie's house slave Stephen, was also given a spirited turn by Samuel L. Jackson. Like DiCaprio, Jackson gave Stephen so much life that it was impossible not to be completely delighted while they schemed and Stephen chastised nearly everyone he could. Between the two of them, there was so much conviction in their performances. It was a treat to watch two actors at the top of their game and in roles you wouldn't normally envision them taking. 

Christoph Waltz, who played Hans Landa in Tarantino's last film, was splendid himself as bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz. Tarantino's dialogue sounds so beautiful when spoken by Waltz that I want him to consider acting exclusively in Tarantino films. His character brought so much subtle wit and braggadocio to the proceedings. Kerry Washington really didn't have a whole lot to do as Django's wife, Broomhilda, but she was excellent in the "damsel in distress" role.

The supporting turns from people like Don Johnson, Walton Goggins, and Jonah Hill (in a hilarious cameo during probably the funniest scene in the entire movie) were all so perfectly played. Really, everything came together so nicely as far as the cast went despite the bouts of turnover they experienced when people like Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, and Sacha Baron Cohen dropped out. Things seemed just right the way they were.

The plot of the film is also engrossing. You get caught up in Django's quest to rescue Broomhilda from "Candie Land." . The transition from slave to bounty hunter that to their final plot is so well-told. The details that Tarantino includes along the way are so rich. No scenes are wasted, and there are usually strong moments everywhere to keep the film moving. And just when you think the movie ends, it keeps going. I wasn't going to complain about the extra half hour or so, that's for sure. 

The actors also weren't the only ones going for broke. Tarantino went for it with the choices he made in the film stylistically and with the script, and I think he connected. Tarantino's movies are usually violent, but the gore was upped a notch in this one. Comical amounts of blood were spilled here, and it was extra thick and red. The language used during the film is extra strong due to the subject matter and setting of the film (deep south, 1858). But I think both decisions worked for what he was trying to do here. I don't think there is really a deep message or anything, although hearing the colloquial nature of discourse really highlights just how terrible that era of American history was. The exuberant and flashy nature of the film only amplifies the entertainment, and man was it amped up here. It won't appeal to everyone, that's for sure, but I don't really think it gets much better than that. I haven't left a movie theater feeling so giddy in a long time, but Django Unchained certainly did the job. 

Grade: A+

If you saw the film, what did you think? Let us know in the comments section.

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