DJANGO UNCHAINED review by Mark Walters

DJANGO UNCHAINED review by Mark Walters

Being a fan of Westerns, and particularly the “Spaghetti Western” era, I was perhaps more excited than most when I heard Quentin Tarantino’s newest movie would be a nod to that style of filmmaking. DJANGO UNCHAINED could be called a love letter to directors like Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci. Leone is of course best known for The Man With No Name trilogy (starring Clint Eastwood) or the great ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Corbucci gave us the original DJANGO with star Franco Nero. Tarantino takes the character name of “Django” and applies it in a much different way, this time focusing the action on a slave (played by Jamie Foxx) who becomes the strong and silent gunslinger in a rather violent and at times very over-the-top tale.

The story opens in 1858, as the camera follows a group of chained slaves while the opening credits (same font and size as the original DJANGO) flash across the screen. Among these poor souls is a man named Django (Jamie Foxx), who hasn’t had the best of luck to say the least. Enter Dr. King Schultz (Chistoph Waltz), a former dentist now a bounty hunter, who seems to have a particular interest in Django and his knowledge. Schultz frees him from his captors, and negotiates a deal in which Django, who in exchange for his freedom will help the Doc find three outlaws known as The Brittle Brothers. Django realizes along the way what Schultz’s profession entails, and even develops a taste for it himself, turning into a working partner or sorts to the former dentist. When King realizes that Django’s wife Broomhilda (raised and named by a German couple) was sold away from him, he becomes fascinated at the prospect of helping his new friend get her back – seems in German culture the name “Broomhilda” is connected with a popular legend, and Schultz feels his culture demands he help Django find her. Their quest eventually finds them tracking down ruthless slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Like most Tarantino fare, DJANGO UNCHAINED is a bit on the long side, clocking in at just under three hours. Some might argue a bit of that padding could have been trimmed, and might not even be ultimately essential to the script… but it’s all for the most part fun. You could also use the logic that most of the more legendary Spaghetti Westerns, like ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, were quite lengthy in their own right. What’s perhaps most interesting is the strange balancing act DJANGO UNCHAINED walks in tone, as in some moments it feels brutal and disturbing on a psychological level, and at other times it’s almost a nod to something like BLAZING SADDLES. But the changing mood of the film is part of its charm, as it keeps the audience guessing, never quite knowing what to expect in any given scene. One thing that is consistent is the amped-up violence. When people get shot, it’s a big deal – lots of blood, big blasts of gore. It’s as if Quentin took what Sam Peckinpah used to do and injected it with steroids. Some may find the violence and brutality off-putting, and there’s at least one scene (involving two slave fighters battling to the death) that even had me cringing. There’s also the abundant use of the “N” word, which of course was realistic to the time, but here it seems like excess and is often used for humor – I think someone noted it’s used 109 times during the course of the film.


All of the actors seem to be giving it their all, and having fun with the material. I imagine these days starring in a Western is a blast for any thespian, especially with so many formulaic action flicks and romantic comedies being churned out. Jamie Foxx is probably the most subdued of the cast, as he’s supposed to be playing the strong, silent type. His man of few words doesn’t get a lot moments to emote, but he’s a fairly likable hero, and while the idea of a slave mingling sometimes effortlessly with affluent whites in the “Old West” may be a bit hard to swallow, the audience will undoubtedly be forgiving as this is obviously not played for accuracy. Christoph Waltz is again superb, chewing scenery and relishing every syllable of that classic Tarantino dialogue. His character is in fact so likable and endearing, one will surely leave hoping he and Quentin make ALL of their films together from now on. As terrific as he was in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, his role of King Schultz may be his most ‘perfect’ performance to date. Not to be under-appreciated is Leonardo DiCaprio, who looks almost criminally happy playing Calvin Candie – a villain that fancies himself a proper Southern gentlemen, but is obviously just trying too hard. Candie is one of those roles that feels like a spoiled child all grown up, now the man of the house, and not settling for anything less that exactly what he wants. But there’s also an underlying gullability there, in that he trusts people he thinks are special, and that becomes his weakness. Samuel L. Jackson plays Candie’s house slave Stephen, the worst kind of slave, as he bosses around the other slaves on the property and only lives to serve Calvin’s every whim. Stephen knows he’s endeared himself to Calvin, and that gives him power. He’s also a man who is not afraid to betry his own people in the sake of keeping Mr. Candie happy. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Jackson’s performance here, but he becomes what some might call the deadliest villain of the piece, and it’s a terrific role for the seasoned actor. Kerry Washington has a smaller part as Broomhilda, but makes the most of her screentime, and is (as always) breathtaking to behold. She delivers a great vulnerable character we absolutely want to see saved, and does so with the least dialogue of all.

Tarantino fills the rest of the cast with familiar faces like James Remar (playing two roles for some strange reason), Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, James Russo, Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, and Michael Parkes, to name but a few. Even Tarantino shows up in a brief cameo, and with an accent you’d never expect. One of the most fun moments in the film comes when the one and only Franco Nero (star of the original DJANGO) shows up for a short exchange with Foxx… those who can appreciate that scene will adore it. As a Western, DJANGO UNCHAINED may not be anything revolutionary or even all that great, but it is a really fun experience. I’ve seen it twice now, and actually enjoyed it more the second time. Some of the dialogue isn’t quite as slick and eloquent as what most Tarantino fans may be used to, and there’s an uneven flow to the proceedings, but most of what you’ll sit through is fun. If you can get past the excessive violence and language, you may just find DJANGO UNCHAINED to be one of the best guilty pleasures of 2012.

DJANGO UNCHAINED opens December 25, 2012

Be Sociable, Share!

About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.