A masterful piece of filmmaking, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, is powerful but excessive violence and self-indulgence diminish the power of the film more than they improve its entertainment value.
I have to confess that I actually watched today’s movie over the weekend, and the above sentence is probably how my review would have read if I’d posted it as my Sunday Single Sentence review, but that hardly does the film justice, so I decided to wait and to a more complete review today.
Unfortunately, I’m having a hard time deciding what more I can say. The film is a well-conceived, excellently-executed neo-spagetti Western, set almost entirely in the antebellum south. Jamie Foxx stars as Django a slave freed in the dead of night by German dentist turned bounty hunter King Schultz (Cristoph Waltz) who through a series of circumstances winds up training Django as a bounty hunter and joining him on a mission to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who has been sold as a household slave to wealthy planter Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
For much of the movie Tarantino is really in top form, the dialogue is clever and the plot fast-moving but meaningful, and the cinematography is first-rate. Unfortunately the film somehow manages to bog down at the climax. I’ve watched dozens of movies where, knowing there’s going to be a big action sequence to come, I sit around for the first two-thirds waiting for the shooting to start. That wasn’t the case with Django Unchained. For most of the movie there’s a good mix of all requisite elements, action, comedy, drama. Unfortunately, the film somehow manages to get worse once the bullets really start flying at the film’s climax.
There’s a point in the film where our heroes seem to have achieved their goals in a manner that, while not without sacrifice, was largely peaceful. For a moment I honestly was thinking/hoping that Tarantino was going to pull some sort of double-reverse twist on our expectations and just end the film that way, with victory achieved but vengeance denied. Then, of course, everything went to hell for Django and Schultz.
The ensuing gunfight just seemed way too long, and almost comically bloody. Long gone are the days where Tarantino’s film’s depicted violence quickly and brutally, instead we see hordes bad guys appearing seemingly from nowhere charging headlong into gunfire. It was ridiculous and unnecessary and this wasn’t even the last big action sequence.
This said, I don’t want to create the impression that Django Unchained isn’t a good movie. In fact it’s excellent. While I was sort-of expecting most of what was in the movie, it did surprise me by including what was possibly the funniest scene in any movie I’ve seen in the last year. (Which I’ll not be spoiling here.) On the whole this film really is a great piece of cinema, but after the climactic scene with DiCaprio’s Candie, the rest of the movie just goes on for too long. Too long for me to call it a “must see” at least. However, Django Unchained is absolutely worth seeing.