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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Django Unchained | Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Quentin Tarantino | Review

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Django Unchained

If you've seen any of director Quentin Tarantino's films, you know what to expect. His latest, 'Django Unchained' has his signature stamp of clever dialogue and over the top, blood drenched violence woven throughout the story which plays out like a gritty mix of a 1970's blaxploitation film and spaghetti western.  In fact, the title pays homage to the 1996 Italian film starring Franco Nero, whom Tarantino recruited here for a cameo role.

Tarantino has also built a reputation as a great storyteller, although he seems obsessed with revenge.  Like Kill Bill 1 and 2 and Inglorious Bastards, wish fulfillment payback is a familiar plot element that once again comes into play.

Django Unchained stars Oscar winning actor Jamie Foxx (Ray) and Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for his supporting role as a Nazi in Tarantino's last film Inglorious Basterds.  

Set in Texas in 1858, two years before the beginning of the Civil War,  Foxx plays the title character of Django (the D in his name is silent), a slave freed from a chain gang by German born dentist turned U.S. bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) in the opening sequence.  Shultz needs Django's help in identifying and finding the Brittle Brothers, whose dead bodies will bring a hefty cash reward when handed over to authorities.

Upon teaming up, Schultz teaches Django the tricks of his trade which includes learning how to become a master gunslinger.  In return for Django's help in tracking down wanted men, Schultz promises to help Django re-unite with his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington, star of TV's Scandal) enslaved on a Mississippi plantation called Candyland, owned by the sadistic Calvin Candie (an evil to the bone, Leonardo DiCaprio), who finds pleasure in watching a pair of big and muscular slaves engage in brutal “Mandingo” fights until one beats the other to death.

Schultz and Django eventually make their way to the Candyland mansion with the pretense of being slave traders looking to buy one of Candie's Mandingo fighters.  There they meet 76 year old Stephen, (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie's trusted head house servant, who thinks nothing of betraying his own race in order to stay in good graces with his white master. Before long, Stephen becomes suspicious as to the real reason for the duo's visit.

The top notch cast are all terrific. Foxx redefines the meaning of western hero.  He totally immerses himself in the role of a broken and embittered slave turned empowered bounty hunter, obsessed with finding and rescuing his wife, while at the same time looking to getting even with those who enslaved and tortured them.  

Waltz fits comfortably and is delightfully convincing in his portrayal of the soft spoken, but deadly bounty hunter (not too dissimilar to his Basterds' role; only this time he plays the good guy), while DeCaprio plays against type, chewing up the scenery as the heartless villain.

True to form, Tarantino once again features an array of has been actors in cameo roles. Most recognizable is Don Johnson, making an impression as a racist plantation owner named Big Daddy. Other actors making brief appearances are Bruce Dern, Tom Wopat, James Remar, Dennis Christopher, Michael Parks, Russ Tamblyn and his daughter Amber (who is easily missed if you blink). In addition, Seth Rogan shows up in a hilarious scene that pokes fun at the KKK. Unfortunately, it goes on a bit too long and loses some effect.

Tarantino's flicks are always filled with gratuitous, graphic violence as well as some humorous moments. But, clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes long, there are times the movie drags.  A half hour could have been easily cut without losing any of its impact. Speaking of impact, when it comes to shoot outs it doesn't get any bloodier than with Tarantino at the helm.  He goes for the gusto, pushing the envelope by bathing the climatic scenes with continuous gunfire and blood spewing like a geyser in the air from body parts ripped apart by bullets. It is literally a bloodbath.

Yet, only Tarantino has the knack of pulling it off in such a way as to be so off the wall and entertaining. Django isn't his best work to date, but it is good enough to recommend seeing, larger than life, on the big screen.

 

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