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{in theatres} Django Unchained

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When faced with tragedy, some of the most comforting words you can hear are “That should’ve never happened.” The assertion of the wrongness of reality is strangely comforting. With Django Unchained, as in Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino takes that righteous anger one step further to “And here’s what should’ve happened instead.”

Tarantino paints a guns-blazing, upside-down world—a Southern-Western that brings bulleted justice to one plantation in an over-too-fast 165 minutes. It’s one of the most alive films I’ve seen since, well, Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino is an exuberant filmmaker. He uses every trick in the book, from gorgeously framed silhouette still shots to quick zooms to extreme close-ups. Injuries spurt. Smoke curls. Stuff moves. As bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) says of Django (Jamie Foxx), it can be said of Tarantino: “My friend has a flair for the dramatic.” He’s not afraid to highlight the quintessential gesture, as in the trailer-featured moment when Django slo-mo shrugs off his rough slave blanket at the start of his transformation into a bada$$ bounty hunter. 

He’s a lover of stories, Tarantino. He weaves all kinds of tales around Django’s quest to find and free his wife. Wagner’s operatic tale of Brünnhilde (whom Django’s wife is named after), spaghetti Western tropes, grand romance traditions, mini-stories in each soundtrack song (featuring everyone from Johnny Cash to John Legend), the tried-and-true rhythms of a Hero’s Journey. There’s also a lot of terrifying truth underpinning this revenge fantasy as well. This film is no history lesson and doesn’t pretend to be, but it does put a swinging lantern light up to the evil our country tolerated—and supported—for nearly the first century of its existence.

Personifying this evil? A top-of-his-game Leonardo DiCaprio as plantation owner Calvin Candie. (That bloody hand? It’s real.) Staring down DiCaprio’s scarily dead eyes is an electrifying Foxx, with the can-you-believe-how-lovable-this-guy-is-after-seeing-him-be-so-dispicable-in-Inglorious-Basterds Waltz at his side. In an impressive character role, Samuel L. Jackson makes Candie’s head slave both repugnant and pitiable. My only acting complaint is that the superb Kerry Washington (Broomhilda) wasn’t given more to do. (There were plenty of guns on the floor in the final showdown…why not let a girl pick one up and take a few shots of her own?)

The film is a satisfying story, both gory and funny as hell. It would be pure entertainment…if I could forget those blood-soaked plantation walls are in my own backyard. In the real world, we can’t right those wrongs with one glorious explosion. It’s slow, messy work to fight racism and other forms of systematic oppression in daily life. Django Unchained is both a fantastic escape from our trudging national journey towards justice and a (wacky, over-the-top, and controversial) call to keep on going.

gimme five | Django Unchained

Good for: Fans of spaghetti Westerns, historical themes, audacious filmmaking or all of the above.

Invite your: History-buff friend to debate particulars, film-buff friend to call out visual references and your music-buff friend to identify performers on the soundtrack.

Snack on: Foamy beer, which enjoys a few close-ups of its own in the film.

Bring your: Ability to talk about tough subjects for post-watch conversations.

Skip if: You don’t do movie blood.

How did Django Unchained make you feel?

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Sarah Magill

Sarah Magill has a full-time movie habit made possible by a day-time greeting card writing gig. She blogs at Gimme Some Film and is learning to write scripts and direct. She tries to balance her screen obsession with trail running, jazz singing, book clubbing, and hanging out with The Best Golden Retriever Ever, Copa.

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0 comments on “{in theatres} Django Unchained”

  1. We just saw Django on Monday and loved it. Tarantino’s characters are once again intriguing and awesome. I was impressed by Jamie Foxx and his role and LOVED LOVED Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Despite all the good I still have such a hard time being faced with the fact that some parts of this movie most likely happened in real life. Insane.

    • Totally agree, Kim! Did you see Waltz got nominated for an Oscar (Best Actor in a Supporting Role) this morning? Disappointed DiCaprio wasn’t given a nod alongside him, but Waltz definitely deserved it.

  2. so good. and the brilliance of weaving in the Brünnhilde legend — yeesh; that really impressed me.

    it was interesting that Waltz’s sympathetic character was a german. I wondered if that was a kind of nod, after Basterds, to say he wasn’t writing off all the germans.

    • I thought of the German angle, too…could just be that Christoph is Austrian/German, but let’s say it’s a nod to nice Germans everywhere : )

  3. Great movie. Waltz, again, deserves the Oscar. Great review here. My only quibble is that, for some reason, I thought it was too long. I know I also said this about Zero Dark Thirty, but after about 100 mins I started checking my watch quite a bit. I think it’s because I had no idea where it was heading or what exactly I was rooting for. I didn’t expect Django and Hilde to be together for so long.

    I was also surprised that Hilde basically just stood around making doe-eyes for most of her screen time. Django’s nickname for her is “Troublemaker,” but I didn’t actually see her make any trouble.

    Maybe I’m too literal, but when Waltz tells the German folk legend (which was awesome) I expected the film’s climax to mirror it more. I expected Django to end up having to walk through flames to save her. I was a little disappointed that didn’t pay off as well as I thought it could’ve.

    Overall, great movie. But not my favorite of the Best Pic Nominees that I’ve seen. I’m still waiting for something to knock Lincoln off the pedestal.