Movies: "Django Unchained" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Django Unchained"
Movies: "Django Unchained"


Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” starts out wonderfully but devolves into a hot, bloody mess.


As we all know, Tarantino loves genre movies and this one is his personal mash-up of spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation films, set in Texas and Mississippi shortly before the Civil War.   Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave, separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) after they tried to escape from a plantation.


Along comes Dr. King Schultz (Austrian Christoph Waltz, memorable as the sadistic Gestapo colonel Hans Landa in Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds”), a bounty hunter posing as an itinerant dentist.  He needs Django to identify three wanted men -- the same ones who tortured Django and his wife after the escape attempt.  Django signs up and off they ride to a series of gunfights and wordy discussions, your typical Tarantino mix of action and talk.


But when they decide to free Broomhilda from the clutches of sadistic slaveholder Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), they will also encounter a shuffling house servant (Samuel L. Jackson) with an agenda all his own.  The upshot is a long series of extremely gory shootouts with a body count rivaling that of World War II.


Leaving aside the question of whether this still constitutes entertainment in these days of real-life shootings, let’s focus on the movie itself.


Tarantino says he wrote the screenplay for “Django” with Christoph Waltz in mind, and this is evident from the get-go.  Dr. Schultz is a wonderful character:  erudite, polite and deadly.  His English is so refined that when he converses with some low-life slave traders at the start of the movie, one of them keeps telling him to “speak English, dammit.”   His interaction with Django is also winning, as he respectfully schools the former slave in the business of bounty hunting.


The fact that this movie deals with America’s original sin of slavery adds a dark note to the proceedings, even if its blaxploitation aspect -- a black gunslinger seeks revenge on the slave holders -- is pure fantasy.  Tarantino even has some fun with a posse of Klansmen seeking to kill our bounty hunters:  they can’t see properly through the eye holes in their hoods.  


Jonah Hill is one of those myopic night riders, and several other big names pop up here and there, including Don Johnson, James Remar, Bruce Dern, Russ Tamblyn and Tarantino himself, with an improbable Australian accent.


The cinematography is by Robert Richardson (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Eat Pray Love”) and the music, which ranges from spaghetti western to rap to Jim Croce (!), was overseen by Robb Boyd and Mary Ramos.  


Some people hate Quentin Tarantino movies, some love them.  I have mixed feelings.  He’s clearly a major talent as a screenwriter and director, and his obvious love of movies, all movies, makes his films far more interesting than the B-movie fare that inspires him.  Still, it’s a shame to see his talents squandered on a bloodbath like this one.


“Django Unchained” is rated R for extreme violence and language.  I give it a C.

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