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31 Dec 2012

'Django Unchained' Is Not Quentin Tarantino's Best Effort

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Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained. Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained.

Quentin Tarantino is repeating himself a bit when it comes to his latest, Django Unchained.

Tarantino got off on revisionist history with Inglourious Basterds, changing the events of World War II for entertainment’s sake. He got away with it, because the movie was stylistically awesome, and Eli Roth wowed with his baseball bat.

This time, Tarantino has taken his crazy pen to the subject of slavery, and the result is an uncomfortable yet somewhat entertaining mixed bag.

The movie has all of the Tarantino-isms (super violence, awesome music choices, cutesy monologues), but it gave me that “been there, done that” feeling. For the first time ever during a Tarantino movie, I found myself a little bored at times.

Christoph Waltz, who played the evil Jew-hunter Nazi in Basterds, returns to Tarantino Land as Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter wandering around the South two years before the Civil War. He has the same ingenuity and flare for words that the Jew-hunter had, but he’s a much nicer human being. That is, unless you are one of his targets—then he will shoot you down like a dog in a spray of brains and intestine.

His character despises slavery, but purchases a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx), because he heard Django has seen some men he needs to shoot. As it turns out, Django is a crack shot; the two become partners; and lots of evil crackers are going to die violent deaths.

Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), has been sold to an evil slave owner named Calvin Candie (a slithery Leonardo DiCaprio), and Schultz agrees to accompany Django on a mission to rescue her.

When DiCaprio enters the fray, the movie hits its highest heights. Tarantino allows the usually virtuous actor a chance to be truly disgusting, and DiCaprio jumps at the opportunity.

The movie is long (two hours and 45 minutes), as are some other Tarantino films. However, this is the first Tarantino film that felt long. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that this is the first Tarantino film not to be edited by the late Sally Menke. Menke was a big part of the Tarantino universe, and her cuts were magical. Perhaps Menke would’ve made this gun-and-pony show fly by effortlessly, as she did with all of her other Tarantino projects.

Django Unchained is a sporadically entertaining film that feels a little off. It is also Tarantino’s most-sadistic film to date, and I say this while remembering the “Bring out the gimp!” scene from Pulp Fiction. Again, maybe Menke had a way of presenting Tarantino’s crazed visions that his current editor can’t summon up. The sort of stuff that is just plain nauseating here was actually kind of funny in past Tarantino efforts.

Waltz is terrific, and it’s refreshing to see him playing a crazy guy with a big heart. He’s usually such a prick in his movies, so it’s nice to see him in a heroic role. DiCaprio gives his part of the film a funny and sinister edge, although his monologue about the inner workings of a slave’s skull is a bit much. Foxx makes for a decent-enough hero.

Django Unchained is mediocre Tarantino at best, and I can only give the slightest of recommendations. See it for Waltz and DiCaprio.

I’m hoping this signifies the end of Tarantino’s revisionist-history and exploitation/grindhouse phase. Unfortunately, I just read a story where he teased an idea for a sequel to Basterds—so new and innovative ideas from Tarantino might be far away.

Django Unchained is playing in theaters across the valley.

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