Middle-school drop-out Quentin Tarantino brings us his newest film, a Western-inspired adventure through the South complete with his trademark dialog, excessive violence, and bizarre sense of humor. The movie begins with the date, 1858, and a statement, “Two years before the Civil War.” That would be true if the Civil War began in 1860. But it began in 1861. Maybe if Tarantino hadn’t dropped out of Middle-school, he would realize that 61 – 58 does not equal 2.
Django Unchained tells the story of Django, a slave who becomes a free man. The majority of the film is his quest to free his wife Broomhilda from slavery, as well. In doing so, he teams up with a bounty hunter and goes under-cover, so to speak, in order to accomplish his goals. At its heart, this movie is a revenge tale, an outlet of anger against slavery at the hands of white oppressors.
Christoph Waltz turns in a brilliant performance as ex-dentist-turned-bounty-hunter Dr. King Schultz. He displays warmth and charisma, and makes the dialog sing. Jamie Foxx is also excellent as the title character, showing a natural transformation from uneducated slave to an educated and cunning killing machine. All the other actors turned in good performances, too, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Don Johnson. Samuel L. Jackson completely stole the show with his portrayal of Stephen, the head house slave. He was ornery, cursed up a storm, and was generally hilarious.
The first part of the movie is amazing. It featured Schultz freeing Django, showing him the bounty hunting trade, going after the Brittle Brothers, and having a montage of Django training. The pacing of all this was absolutely perfect. After that, the film moves into the much slower second part. This is where the movie takes a nosedive from amazing to WTF. The pacing is so plodding and lethargic, the content so dull, that I couldn’t fucking stand it. All that happens in the second part is Schultz and Django meet with Calvin Candie, go to his plantation for negotiations, and have a final shootout. That’s it. That’s three fucking things. It could have all gone down in 45 minutes. Possibly less. But under Tarantino’s cumbersome direction, it balloons out to nearly 2 hours.
I’ve seen all of Tarantino’s movies, and I’ve liked almost all of them. He loves to write quirky dialog. He likes to let his camera linger on actors. He will never be accused of moving any film along too quickly. I knew all that going in, and yet it was still an enormous bore. The dining room scene alone must last at least 30 minutes. And while the dialog is interesting, it isn’t really all that important. Not much of substance really happens in this grueling test of patience. And once Candie discovers Django’s ruse, we go on yet another dialog tangent. Ugh, goddammit. Would it have killed Tarantino to speed this shit up?
The main problem comes from the editing. Sally Menke, who had previously edited all of Tarantino’s movies, died in 2010. Surely, she would have known what to cut and how to move things along at a faster pace. Django’s editor, Fred Raskin, has only edited shit, including three Fast & Furious movies, and probably was clueless how to edit a movie that didn’t feature car races or Vin Diesel. He also probably didn’t have the balls to stand up to Tarantino when a cut was desperately needed. So, just like The Hobbit, Django Unchained plods along with unnecessary scenes, an excessively long runtime, and becomes a chore to watch. There is no fucking way a revenge-story Western needs to be 2 hours and 45 minutes long. It could have been 90 minutes and accomplished just as much.
Also, the characters act like fucking imbeciles. Mostly, it’s Schultz who pissed me off. He went through a lot of work to get Django into Candyland and to set up the ruse to buy Broomhilda. And he completely fucks it up by murdering Candie with a shotgun pointed at his back. Did he really think he was going to walk out of there alive? Clearly, he had a goddamn death wish. His rash mistake also likely doomed Django and Broomhilda. Even though Django manages to kill everybody and save the day at the end, there is no fucking way two black people on horses are going to make it out of the pre-Civil War Deep South alive. Who cares if they have papers indicating their freedom? The Klan surely wouldn’t. And neither would any slavers. Obviously, this retardedness lies with the writer, Tarantino. If he wanted to kill off Schultz he could have easily thought of a better way. One that doesn’t indicate the dentist is a moron, and doom the other characters all at the same time.
The shootout that follows was all right. It was gory as hell, and entertaining enough. All of the deaths in the movie feature an excessive amount of blood. Instead of using one or two blood packs, they must have used 20. Single gunshots erupt with geysers of blood. It’s so much that it becomes comical and borders on the absurd. By doing this, Tarantino is able to extract horror and humor out of the film’s violence. And despite this being a questionable decision, it works to the movie’s advantage.
Once the shootout in the house ends, the remainder of the film is very anti-climactic. Django eventually escapes the bad guys and returns to gun down everyone. He does this without taking a single scratch. And this being a “Western” there should have been a showdown or duel or something with a villain. It looked like they were setting that up with Walton Goggins’ character, but it never happened. He got shot just like every other nameless extra in the film. And in the end, Django blows up Candyland with a bunch of dynamite. Never mind the fact that dynamite wasn’t invented until 1867, that’s not important.
The most hilarious part was the scene where Django is hanging upside-down, naked, and you can see a big-ole fake rubber penis. I guess Jamie Foxx was too shy to show off his goods. That had to be the most distracting thing in the movie. Well, now that I think about it, the most distracting thing in the movie was Tarantino himself. He’s been known to put himself in small roles in his movies, and usually that’s OK. But here, he sticks out like a sore thumb, with his morbid obesity and horribly fake Australian accent.
I have to give Tarantino props for trying to make a statement with this movie. Typically, his movies are entertaining, but don’t have a lot to say. That’s ironic considering they usually feature non-stop talking. He has a tendency to make movies for himself, tributes to various genres like Grindhouse or Martial-Arts. Django Unchained is his first movie to tackle bigger issues: namely racism and slavery. The word “nigger” gets thrown around about 500,000 times to show just how callous the attitude of whites were toward blacks. The human death-matches, the torture, and the murder by ravenous dogs were all very unsettling scenes. They showcased how slaves were considered sub-human, nothing more than pieces of property. Those scenes are meant to be unsettling, to remind us how horrible all of this truly was.
Django has an interesting character arc. He starts out as good and innocent. As the movie progresses he gets a taste for killing and his morality moves into a gray area. By the end of the movie he has descended to depths just as low as any white oppressor. He kills everyone in sight, dons the clothes of the villain, and completes his journey to amorality. This character arc may not have been intentional, but it is clearly there.
Overall, Django Unchained is a very mixed film. The first part is excellent, with good pacing and fun action. The second part is a bore, a slog to get through, and completely decimates the goodwill earned from the first part. If Tarantino wasn’t so in love with himself, and was able to show some goddamn restraint, he could have turned in a masterpiece. He didn’t. I just wish someone on set had been the voice of reason, telling Tarantino to reign it in a bit, not to use 90 blood packs per gunshot, not to put himself in the movie, and not to make it any longer than it needed to be. Fortunately, good performances from the actors are enough to save the movie from being a complete piece of shit.