Posted December 25, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
What We Liked:lots of action and humor
What We Disliked:routine third act
While Django Unchained is entertaining, Tarantino’s skills as a director exceeds his skills as a storyteller here.
Django Unchained is exactly what you’d expect a Tarantino western to be. It’s bloody, violent, and darkly humorous.
The Story: Django (Jamie Foxx) is rescued in the middle of the night from a pair of slave traders by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a former dentist turned bounty hunter. Schultz had heard that Django labored at a plantation where three wanted men worked as overseers. Schultz offers to give Django his freedom if he’s willing to identify the fugitives and bring them to justice–dead or alive. Having suffered under their lash, Django is all too willing.
Schultz and Django journey to the plantation, where Django extracts his revenge against his former masters. However, Django’s story is just beginning. Django tells Schultz about how he and his wife Broomhilda were separated when they tried to run away. Schultz offers to help Django get his wife back from Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a brutal plantation owner who forces the men among his slaves to fight to the death.
Django Unchained has plenty of Wild West action, boasting nearly a dozen bloody shoot-outs. There’s also several humorous scenes. The Klan rides in dramatically to avenge the death of white slavers at the hands of Django, but Tarantino halts the momentum by flashing back to moments earlier, showing the Klan whining like children about how their masks don’t fit right. The action and humor make Django Unchained entertaining if nothing else.
What Django Unchained is missing, however, is the cast of memorable characters that QT is known for. Most every denizen of Pulp Fiction was interesting, and the same goes true for Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs. Few characters register in Django Unchained, including Django himself. Tarantino is barely interested in him, putting his camera on the loquacious Schultz. Tarantino is a dialogue writer, best in monologues and exchanges. He’s a writer of talkers, but his main character is the strong, silent type. Tarantino needs the nameless hero of A Fistful of Dollars, who was a bit chatty himself at times. Foxx lacks the presence of a Denzel Washington to pull Django off.
However, there are stronger performances and more interesting characters in DiCaprio’s Candie and especially Waltz’s Schultz. Schultz loves to hear himself talk, and flaunts his intellect in front of slower types. He keeps a cool head when guns are drawn on him, and knows how to reason with people, and talk his way out of anything. Waltz relishes every word of dialogue, throwing nothing away. DiCaprio throws himself at the villain Candie with equal fervor, and the two have a great scene together at the tail end of the second act.
After that, the third act just goes through the motions, running on fumes. Django Unchained peaks before it reaches the climax; the final showdown is not as exciting as what has come before. Django’s wife gets next to no dialogue, and we know even less about her than we do Django, so we don’t empathize with Django’s need to get his wife back. Much is made of how pretty she is, but who the heck is she? Her rescue is the film’s payoff, but she’s not worth the trouble from the audience’s standpoint.
Django Unchained suffers structural problems, and fails to make its story about the most interesting character. Tarantino’s skills as a director exceeds his skills as a storyteller here. Django Unchained is a good time and a fairly good movie, but a “great” film is a stretch.