Arts Django-Unchained

Published on December 27th, 2012 | by David


Django Unchained: We’ve Been Here Before, And We Don’t Mind a Bit

Making a completely genre-busting, original film can only happen so many times, and as a director finds his creative voice, the commonalities between his films can start to feel like a formula. While Django Unchained doesn’t break much new ground in storytelling, Quentin Tarantino delivers a polished, engaging spaghetti Western with top-notch writing, acting, and camerawork.

A very loose remake of the 1966 film of the same name, the movie follows a former slave on a quest to find his wife and avenge their mistreatment at the hands of brutal slave owners. En route to a new owner, Django’s slave caravan is interrupted by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a former dentist and current bounty hunter. After rescuing him from the trader, Schultz offers Django his freedom in return for helping him identify a trio of outlaw brothers he is hunting. When that goes well (and Django shows a penchant for marksmanship), the two of them stick together, and go on a mission to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda from her new master, the dastardly plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Posing as a trader and his assistant, Schultz and Django infiltrate the infamous “Candyland” and attempt to extract Broomhilda.

Schultz is a fantastic, quirky character– between his dentist’s cart topped with a huge, bouncy tooth, his ruthless violence, and his aloof, eloquent manner, he almost steals the show from Django himself. Samuel Jackson absolutely kills it as the racist head slave of the plantation, and Kerry Washington plays a solid Broomhilda. Jamie Foxx has a powerful presence and fits the action-hero role well, but isn’t given the same agency or memorable lines as Waltz, and while DiCaprio does a decent evil Southern dandie, he doesn’t quite have the charisma of Bill, Colonel Landa, or other past Tarantino villains. Foxx’s less than dominating performance may also have something to do with subconscious comparisons to other Tarantino protagonists.

Besides the imaginative cast, all the familiar Tarantino tropes are here– violence, revenge, wit, waxing philosophical amidst rivers of blood, and general badassery– but the setting and set of characters give it its own feel. While this may be the first time Tarantino has set a movie in the Wild West, it’s hardly his first Western– Kill Bill and Inglourious Bastards both had the same sort of swaggering outlaws seeking revenge in a world with quirky characters and few rules. That said, the violence in Django is less cartoonish than Tarantino’s other works (particularly Kill Bill), and combined with the backdrop of American slavery, more emotionally impactful as well. In the same way there was something perfectly delicious about watching Nazis get their just desserts in Basterds, it’s quite satisfying to see slave owners getting exactly what they deserve.

Part of any Tarantino experience is the writing, and it doesn’t disappoint. From Schultz’s cowboy-confounding fancytalk to Candie’s saccharine, drawling racism, Tarantino’s sharp dialogue is as much of a star as any of the cast. The director has actually said that he writes his scripts as literature, trying to produce a completely satisfying, standalone written story before he even thinks about shooting it. The power of this unique technique shows, and you come away with the sense that if a dentist-turned-bounty-hunter and a freed slave were actually on a crazy mission for revenge, this is exactly how it would go down.

Despite clocking in at two and a half hours, Django never drags. Tarantino has film pacing down to a science, knows how to write compelling, charismatic characters, and manages to layer an entertaining action flick over a topic most filmmakers wouldn’t touch. Yes, his formula is starting to feel a little familiar by now, but when it’s such a good formula, who really cares? In theaters now.

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About the Author

David has been writing professionally since 2008, as a translator and product editor for Japan Trend Shop. Along the way he has worked in IT for Six Apart (and its reincarnation as SAY Media), Naked Communications, and Tokyo 2.0, as well as volunteering his nerdiness for dance events and organizations such as the Fusion Exchange and the Portland Swing and Jazz Dance society. After graduating Lewis & Clark College in 2010, David entered the Teach for America program, and taught Algebra and Geometry at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco. When he's not educating young minds or buried in a computer screen, he spends his time dancing, and frequently teaches dance with fellow TrulyNet author Ruth Hoffman.

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