Review: Django Unchained
Django Unchained is the story of a slave named Django, played by Jaime Foxx, who with the assistance of German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, goes on a journey to rescue his wife Broomhilda from the clutches of plantation owner Calvin Candie.
The film is done in the style of a spaghetti western, and is written and directed by the one and only Quentin Tarantino, in what he calls a “southern”. The film is rich with class Tarantino dialogue and characters, although it ultimately falls short of some of his best work. And like Inglourious Basterds before it, Tarantino has chosen an equally controversial topic to spice up with his comedic, dramatic and violent sensibilities.
Aside from the great work of the cast, one of the best elements of Django is the work of cinematographer Robert Richardson who litters the film with beautiful visuals and landscapes that wouldn’t feel out of place in a classic Ford or Leone western. Richardson has always been an impressive director of photography and his work here continues that legacy.
And with Richardson at his side, Tarantino creates one of the most stunningly violent and gory standoffs in the history of the western genre. Despite how great and well designed the standoff is however (it may be the most impressive action sequence the writer/director has ever attempted), it does contribute to a third act that drags and sputters, ultimately hindering what was a great film up to that point. This has long been a common complaint against Tarantino; his films are bloated or attempt to cram too much in. While I have never really felt that way, it is specifically true in Django’s case.
Now onto easily my favorite part of the film: the cast. Nearly everyone in the film shines. Jamie Foxx is surprisingly great in the title role of Django (perhaps Tarantino’s finest lead character since Jackie Brown), I was always bitter that he got the role over actors Idris Elba, Anthony Mackie and Michael K. Williams, but Foxx pulls it off. Kerry Washington is also great in, what is for the most part, the thankless role of Broomhilda Von Shaft, Django’s wife. Waltz is flashy and perfect as Dr. King Schultz, but the real standouts are the one-two punch of Leonardo DiCaprio (as plantation owner Calvin Candie) and Samuel L. Jackson (as Candie’s “old friend” and right-hand slave Steven). DiCaprio is magnificent and justifiably over-the-top as the villainous good ‘ol boy Candie, while Jackson provides a lot of the comic relief in the film and continually steals the small number of scenes he appears in.
The cast also features a plethora of fun cameos and character actors. Walton Goggins, Don Johnson, James Remar (hilariously in two roles), Jonah Hill, M.C. Gainey, Franco Nero (Django himself), and western royalty Amber Tamblyn all appear and all impress. Goggins and Remar are the biggest standouts of the bunch.
Overall, despite some structure flaws and a third act that falls apart, the film is still incredibly enjoyable and would probably be one of the years best if it weren’t coming from someone who so consistently surprises and entertains. But because of its flaws, Django will have to settle for being a really good film that could have been a great one.
Django Unchained gets 4 freed slaves out of 5.