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DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) ** ½

There is a really good 2 hour and 15 minute movie hiding somewhere in the 2 hour and 45 minute Django Unchained. There is possibly an even better 2 hour movie in there. As is, Quentin Tarantino’s bloated film has sprinkles of promise, but ultimately gets bogged down because of its inflated running time.

The film reminded me of a slot machine junkie. It hits jackpot early on, but it just doesn’t how when to quit while it’s ahead. And because of that, the house eventually wins.

Jamie Foxx stars as a slave named Django who gains his freedom while working for a dentist-turned-bounty hunter named King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Intrigued with Django’s passion, Schultz agrees to help him rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a slimy plantation owner. Posing as fight promoters, they worm their way into Candie’s home and strike up an agreement to purchase a slave fighter and ask him to toss in Broomhilda as icing on the cake. Things go south (no pun intended) when Candie’s servant (Samuel L. Jackson) gets wind of their intentions.

Django Unchained finds Quentin Tarantino repeating himself. This is the second film in a row where he has gotten big name stars to carry a movie whose title has been ripped off from an Italian flick. It is also his fifth film in a row about revenge (if you count Kill Bill twice). I think it’s time for him to move on to a different subject.

I don’t know about you, but Tarantino’s movies were more fun when he was resurrecting movie stars’ careers. For me, it was cool seeing guys like John Travolta, Robert Forster, and David Carradine getting a second chance on the big screen saying Tarantino dialogue. Here, it just seems like Tarantino is a director for hire making a Jamie Foxx vehicle. Whereas Inglourious Basterds had several tightly directed suspenseful sequences (most of which just revolved around people sitting around talking), Django Unchained is seriously lacking any kind of big bravura scene you’d expect from a Tarantino film. Sure, the big shootout near the end of the film is bloody, but it lacks the well-crafted build-up of say, the needle scene in Pulp Fiction or the high-energy pizzazz of the driving scenes from Death Proof.

Unlike most of Tarantino’s films, Django Unchained is told in a linear fashion. There are only two or three flashbacks, and none of them have much bearing on anything. Even the most straightforward of Tarantino’s films play with time somewhat (the mall scene in Jackie Brown, the car crash in Death Proof). In Django Unchained, there is only one scene in which Tarantino sorta jiggles the timeline, but it’s mostly done for a comedic punchline.

Speaking of which, that scene, involving Don Johnson and Jonah Hill rallying together some racists for a raid is really funny. It’s easily the best written scene in the whole movie. There’s an energy to the dialogue in this scene that’s sorely lacking elsewhere in the picture. With the exception of Waltz’s theatrically playful dialogue, most of the writing in the film comes off sorta flat compared to the rest of Tarantino’s work.

Another signature touch you’d expect from Tarantino’s that’s missing: The soundtrack. Hearing the theme song from the original Django is kickass, but most of the other music is thoroughly forgettable. And the rap songs seemed especially incongruous in the western setting.

The performances are uneven, which doesn’t help. Foxx never quite gets a handle on his character. He just sorta stands there and broods. He can’t fully be blamed because Tarantino wrote him as one-note to begin with. The Broomhilda character is even more one-dimensional. Because there are no sparks to Foxx and Washington’s characters, it’s really hard to work up any emotion for them. And that scene at the end where he taught his horse to walk like a pimp was just fucking goofy.

DiCaprio is miscast as Candie. He’s just your standard issue foppish villain. He is given a couple of okay monologues, but DiCaprio doesn’t quite look at home spouting Tarantino’s dialogue.

But it’s Tarantino’s own performance that brings the movie to a dead stop. Usually I like Tarantino’s performances in his own movies. He was especially good in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. In those films, he held his own acting alongside guys like Harvey Keitel and Samuel L. Jackson. Here, looking overweight and sporting a fucking awful Australian accent, his jokey performance calls attention to itself and immediately takes you out of the movie.

Christoph Waltz very nearly saves the movie. It almost feels like Tarantino knew Foxx couldn’t do all the heavy lifting so he gave all the good lines to Waltz. He was wonderful in Inglourious Basterds and he’s just about as good in this. Once he makes an abrupt exit from the picture, the movie goes into a tailspin fairly quickly and never recovers.

Samuel L. Jackson is also very good as the conniving servant Stephen. But really, I got the most joy from seeing dozens of wonderful character actors populating the supporting cast. In addition to Tarantino’s stock company of players (Michael Parks, Michael Bowen, Zoe Bell, Tom Savani, etc.) we get James Remar (who plays two roles), Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, Don Johnson (who is excellent) and even the original Django himself, Franco Nero turning up in small roles. For me though, I’d say that seeing Talon himself, Lee Horsley popping up was pretty awesome.

So as you can see, the Where’s Waldo casting works. Because of that, you’re always held in attention, waiting to see who else will pop up. The rambling storyline and inflated running time on the other hand doesn’t.

Tarantino recently gave an interview where he trashed Death Proof for being his worst movie. Sure, that film had some valleys, but it has some very high peaks as well. The same can’t be said for Django Unchained. It’s not completely without merit, yet it is far and away my least favorite Tarantino flick.

Comments

( 12 comments — Comment )
(Anonymous)
Dec. 30th, 2012 10:20 am (UTC)
Like anyone takes the opinion of the Guy who gave street fighter:legend of chin li 3. Stars seriously. You suck,you gave more stars to a piece of shit video game adaptation than a Tarantino flick. FAIL
thevideovacuum
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:14 pm (UTC)
If you really want to get into it, Chris Klein's hilarious turn as Charlie Nash in Street Fighter is ten times more fun than Jamie Foxx's performance in this.

And it's not like anyone takes the opinion of a guy who says "FAIL" seriously either.
Chris Conley
Jul. 13th, 2013 06:41 am (UTC)
I really don't take you serious saying that.
comeuppancereviews.com
Dec. 30th, 2012 01:45 pm (UTC)
Definitely agree with your review, there were some solid moments (The shootout was well done and bloody and no cgi blood), but the running time hurt it a lot, and it's anti-climatic.

It was cool seeing all the cameos though. Especially Franco Nero and James Russo.
thevideovacuum
Dec. 30th, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
I agree. I hate to say it because he's my favorite director, but I think Tarantino is starting to get a little full of himself.
(Anonymous)
Dec. 30th, 2012 11:49 pm (UTC)
Oh you mean that really annoying dick of a police officer in it. Because that's what Charlie Nash was,nothing good about that. You still fail ,I'm frankly surprised that there's so many morons who nod their stupid heads in agreement with you. You have sucky taste in movies anyway. You suck,and I will keep on reminding you that you suck. Jamie Fox is better than fucking Chris nobody who's only real role in movies has been fucking American Pie. You suck,you should give up. But why not, your no more different than the millions of other shitty critics that flood the internet.The profession of a critic is to be a wrongheaded idiot I guess.

thevideovacuum
Dec. 31st, 2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
Say what you will about me, but don't fucking call my readers "morons". Many of them are good writers in their own right. I draw the line there. Direct whatever hatred you have at me.

Everyone has an opinion and is free to express it. Some are more civil than others. When you use words like "fail" and "sucky", it shows your maturity level. The fact that you remain anonymous is a further testament to that.

We don't see eye to eye on movies. Big deal. There are plenty of others out there who think otherwise and when they do disagree with me, they don't resort to namecalling.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 2nd, 2013 03:43 am (UTC)
I only criticize your readers because all they seem to do with a few exceptions is agree with you. And if you think I'm not mature by using suck and fail. Maybe you would understand if I said you were incapable of doing your job to me. And that you wouldn't know a good movie if it bit you in the ass. And that when you don't like a movie you give poor reasons,I.e your slumdog millionaire review and your burn after reading review.
Is that mature enough for you,asshole.
thevideovacuum
Jan. 2nd, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
The phrase "different strokes for different folks" apparently has never entered your lexicon.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 3rd, 2013 04:03 am (UTC)
No but at the same time you don't seem to re

spect other people's opinions anyway.
Lucas Accardo
Feb. 4th, 2013 12:45 am (UTC)
A bit too hars?
Maybe in future views of the movie you could reconsider some of the good aspect of this movie.
I agree with many points though... specially that Tarantino's performance pulls you out of the tale in quite a crucial moment.
The two endings should have been tighten up in one, making Schultz "exit" much more relevant and important.
I think one of the movie many mistakes is for example the scene where the have Django upside down naked. You then need to write an excuse for the bad guys not to kill the hero, and as strong Sam Jackson tries to make the point of not punishing Django right there and now too sending to the mines , you just know that an excuse is being built for the hero to return victorious.

I like that you defend Death Proof, i really like that movie, and i'm sorry to hear that he trashed it as his worst movie, which for me is Inglorious Basterds,with Eli Roth and goofy Hitler.

The point i agree the most with is that this is a 120 minutes long great movie diluted in a 165 minutes long one.
thevideovacuum
Feb. 4th, 2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
Re: A bit too hars?
I initially gave Kill Bill 2 *** 1/2 (for the overlong ending) and Jackie Brown *** (for twiddling its thumbs in the middle of the movie), but upon multiple revisits, the things that annoyed me on the first viewing didn't matter and they are now Four Star movies. I don't know if Django will make that same kind of leap, but I definitely want to revisit it a few years down the road.

Edited at 2013-02-04 01:16 pm (UTC)
( 12 comments — Comment )

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