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Review: Django Unchained -An open letter to Quentin Tarantino

December 28, 2012

django_unchained_ver9Django Unchained

  • Starring:  Jamie Foxx (The Soloist), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Leonardo DiCaprio (Gangs of New York) and more.
  • Directed by: Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill)
  • Synopsis: “Set in the South two years before the Civil War, “Django Unchained” stars Academy Award®-winner Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Academy Award®-winner Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittles – dead or alive. Success leads Schultz to free Django, though the two men choose not to go their separate ways. Instead, Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with Django by his side. Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago. Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Academy Award®-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation where slaves are groomed by trainer Ace Woody (Kurt Russell) to battle each other for sport. Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Academy Award®-nominee Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave. Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organization closes in on them. If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they must choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival…”
  • Must-Watch Trailer:
  • Review:

Only Quentin Tarantino can get away with creating a movie that combines slave traders and abolitionists from 1858 with 2 Pac music from the 1990’s (along with music from Rick Ross and James Brown) [listen to the entire soundtrack with commentary from Tarantino HERE], with cinematography from the 1970’s, and with the spaghetti western style of 1960’s film with blood, guts, bullets and whips and “steal” a film in entertaining fashion.

(In a 1994 interview with Empire magazine, Quentin Tarantino once stated, “I steal from everything. Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.” Django Unchained is no exception as it is derived from a 1966 Italian-made Western named Django, starring Franco Nero, who actually makes a cameo appearance in Django Unchained.)

Tarantino himself refers to his version as the “ripoff one” in the soundtrack commentary actually, which I think is interesting. I like that he…through “not paying homage”…pays homage to the “original” as it were.Django-Unchained-Tarantino

The following is my review of director Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained in the form of an open letter to the acclaimed director of cult-classic fame and following.

———-

Dear director Quentin Tarantino,

Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of your films, and, as an avid movie-lover who never quite has been able to completely grasp the attraction to the films that list your name in the “director” column of cast and crew I gingerly ventured to my local theater recently to watch your latest cinematic story entitled Django Unchained, starring Jamie Foxx as a recently freed slave named Django who partners with his abolitionist compadre Dr. King Schultz (a bounty hunter who embodies the phrase “method to the madness”), played exquisitely by Christoph Waltz, on a quest to free his wife and take down her oppressors.DU-AC-000119.JPG

After finishing the film, I wrote this letter to share with you my thoughts. First of all, congratulations on Django Unchained maintaining a high audience and critic approval rating despite the notes of controversy and criticism from the likes of filmmakers such as the outspoken Spike Lee. I will address that a little more in a moment, but first, I had a couple other suggestions in regards to this movie.

1. Correct the time period statement at the beginning of the movie. You place us in the year 1858 followed by a caption that reads “Two years before the Civil War.” Mr. Tarantino, the U.S. Civil War began THREE years after that on April 12, 1861. So, unless your movie takes place around the 131st  day of December in 1858, you made a grievous error at the very beginning. (A small thing and a small fix. History aficionados are going to notice stuff like that in a time-period placed film. A small fix.)DJANGO UNCHAINED

2. At 2 hours and roughly 45 minutes the film is a bit long. Though it packs on the action and doesn’t seem as long as that most of the time, I found myself wishing that it ended a little bit sooner than it did. So did several others as I saw glances at brightly lit phones and watches numerous times after the 120-minute marker passed. It seems that movie makers nowadays can’t get their point across in under 2 hours and 3-hr movies are becoming the norm. 5-hr movies will be what 3-hr movies once were.django-unchained-1

(Now on to the controversial.)

3. I must take the time to applaud you in not shying away from some of the gruesome reality of the slavery period. One of my largest complaints with films such as Gone With The Wind is that it romanticizes the South and slavery during the Civil War and grossly downplays reality. I often tell people to watch films like Cold Mountain instead if they want a truer sense of the depravity of the South during that time. Films like Amistad and Roots make people uncomfortable with scenes of brutality towards slaves and that is no different here. While I am not a fan of seeing it onscreen, one can appreciate you not “romanticizing” it or candycoating the historical fiction you present.django-unchained-image07

4. Though some of it might be a bit much. The brief, yet full, nudity I expected to a degree. You made me cringe in several spots. But you also made me cringe in the 100+ uses of the “N-word.” Yes, I did keep count but stopped counting towards the end after the tally reached 110. Believe it or not, I actually would be willing to watch your movie again, if it weren’t for the flippant or gratuitous usage of the term. I know that the term was used regularly in the South during that time period. And while no one alive can attest to witnessing the amount of actual usage in conversation during that time, I would have appreciated it being used a lot less. (I mean, I am told that Jackie Brown only uses the word about 37 times. Why over 100 in Django Unchained? You surprised me by keeping the use of the F-word down to a whole lot less in this movie…though, I’m not complaining about that mind you.)Django-unchained-dicap-broomhilda

I read your interview from “The Root” about this subject (here) but am still not convinced, nor will I ever be, that the excessive use of the word is justified. I don’t stand with Spike Lee and his argument of your film being “disrespectful to my ancestors.” He hasn’t even seen the movie. I found it not disrespectful to my ancestors. (actually the exact opposite as Django unleashes his fury on his oppressors). But I did find it disrespectful to the audience. Even several fans of your films that I know who expect “shock and awe” from you found it to be a tad bit too much. And let me just say that using Samuel L. Jackson to say it in a fashion that makes people laugh and lighten the mood doesn’t make the use of the word any better.samuel-l-jackson-django-unchained-wallpaper

All that being said, I still remain uncertain as to my own personal feelings about Django Unchained. Was it uncomfortable to watch? during several scenes, yes…yes it was. However, I wouldn’t categorize the violence and brutality as being worse than scenes in Roots or Amistad (which both left me feeling somewhat upset). You actually mixed it up with several bits of comedy and action that kept the story moving. I liked the story, the way you told it and the cast you assembled to do so.  Speaking of the cast, while Jamie Foxx acts his role out flawlessly, along with great additionally impressive performances from Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio (outperformed himself and made the role of “Candie” real and deplorable), Samuel L. Jackson (Who made me hate his character. Uncanny acting.), Jonah Hill and others, the one person who deserves the most laud and attention in this film is Christoph Waltz. Thank you for giving him this role. He played it perfectly.

The nice mix of current/new music along with music and cinematography from times past really kept things interesting along with a few cameo appearances. I can honestly say I enjoyed a lot more of this movie than I expected to. No, it won’t be joining Kill Bill vol. 1 and 2 in my movie collection (the only 2 movies of yours that I own), but I didn’t hate the movie either. Not really sure how one could, truth be told. Action (GREAT action! …and bloody at that, as is your style), flair for the dramatic, great music, fun character shots, tense moments, intriguing story…all of it, pretty well done. I think Django’s redemption, revenge and retribution helps soothe over plenty of the objectionable content in the end and thus ties the film nicely together.django_unchained_ver2

Overall, nice work. I am willing to check out another movie from you in the future, which is kind of a big deal for me given that I did not enjoy so many other of your fan-favorited films. Just, please, tone it down a little on the “N-word.” As a matter of fact, I’m totally good if you don’t include it anymore. The violence, the blood, the action: keep it. It’s all you: Quentin “Shock and Awe” Tarantino.

Sincerely,

T. Faulkner, a.k.a. The Focused Filmographer

Score:  4 out of 5 stars for Django Unchained

———-

Thanks for reading! Happy Watching!

-T, The Focused Filmographer

40 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2012 11:41 am

    Fine and absorbing review, T. I’d be interested in your thoughts, given the elephant in room subject matter of the film (which I found quite powerful), on today’s essay by Steven Boone on DJANGO and Spike Lee. Thanks for this.

    Like

    • December 28, 2012 11:46 am

      thank you. I will read the article. I just checked it out and will take some time to read it in a few. It is an interesting subject and one of the commenters on that article said something true: QT has accomplished something that several directors haven’t, and that is to have people thinking, talking, discussing, and debating about his film. Thank you for reading and for the link

      Like

      • December 28, 2012 3:41 pm

        I didn’t like Boone’s article too much because it talks all about the use of the word without really addressing it, and spends more time focusing on differentiating between Lee and Tarantino, which I found to be useless and inconsequential honestly. He barely touches on the use of the word and seems to poke fun at those of us who do take issue with it. The direction of Boone’s article somewhat confused/perplexed me.

        I will say that as ludicrous and unnecessary it is for Tarantino to use the N-word so many times in this film, I find it also just as ludicrous for him to have excluded it completely from this time-period film. To exclude the word entirely would’ve been an insult as well. A better balance should have been in place and, while I am not certain what exactly Spike Lee wants from Tarantino, that is what I would like for QT to take into consideration.

        Hypotheticals will be brought up quite a bit over the next week or so I am sure about the same issue in movies about different peoples and nationalities. (Would Lee be so upset if it was a movie that was derogatory towards Jews or Hispanics, etc?) And I ignore those types of questions, because they are not the subject at hand. I do give props to Tarantino for making the movie he wanted to make. It’s HIS film. I just hope he remains open to different options in the future when it comes to hot-button subjects like this.

        Thank you for sharing the article and chiming in! :)

        Like

  2. December 28, 2012 11:47 am

    I’m excited to see this. I’m a big fan of Tarantino, and have heard nothing but positive reviews.

    Like

    • December 28, 2012 3:42 pm

      In case I miss your thoughts when/if you post it, please let me know when it shows up on your site!

      Like

      • January 21, 2013 6:45 am

        Just wrote my review. Here’s the link.

        http://cinematicfilmblog.com/2013/01/21/django-unchained/

        Like

      • January 21, 2013 7:54 am

        Thanks for passing it along to me. I’ll be sure to check it out after work today.

        Like

  3. December 28, 2012 12:56 pm

    Great review, T. It’s refreshing to see a review that’s positive while still having definite issues with the film. I haven’t seen it yet but I can kind of see both sides on the “N-word” issue. It’ll definitely be uncomfortable to hear it used that often during the film, yet I wonder if perhaps the idea. I’m reminded of Mark Twain and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where the word was used excessively precisely because Twain wanted to draw attention to how dehumanizing it was. Do you think Tarantino might have been going for the same effect, or was it just pure shock value?

    Like

    • December 28, 2012 3:46 pm

      A good question, Morgan. I personally think it is a mix of both. Undoubtedly he was going for the “dehumanizing” effect to show how blacks were thought of in the South (and the North, might I add) during that time. (People tend to forget that blacks were still not looked upon as equals in the North just because slavery wasn’t as prominent there.) So, I can appreciate the fact that he doesn’t let us forget that it was real.

      and, it’s Tarantino. So I expect quite a bit of it was for shock value as well. As a matter of fact, several of the interviews I read kind of allude to a bit of that.

      but, he did plenty of the dehumanizing and shocking in other ways in this movie as well. So, the approx 113 uses of the N-word were def not necessary in that quantity.

      just my thoughts. Thanks for reading and joining in the conversation.

      Like

  4. Victor De Leon permalink
    December 28, 2012 1:11 pm

    Amazing essay and good review. You provided a unique perspective and I enjoyed it. I am looking forward to this QT entry even though I missed Inglorious Basterds. Thanks!

    Like

    • December 28, 2012 3:47 pm

      Thank you Victor for reading my thoughts. A very kind compliment. I look forward to your own thoughts once you see it. If I miss your posting it, please send me the link so that I can be sure to catch it.

      Like

      • Victor De Leon permalink
        December 28, 2012 4:00 pm

        Absolutely. I will! Thanks.

        Like

  5. Ted S. permalink
    December 28, 2012 2:51 pm

    Good write up T., as a big QT fan I was very disappointed with the film. I think he totally over indulge himself with this one and yeah I think he should tone down the use of the N-word in his films just a bit.

    Like

    • December 28, 2012 3:49 pm

      Thank you, Ted. Although, I highly doubt that Mr. Tarantino will ever read my letter to him or know of its existence. I’ve heard from a few other QT fans that they were disappointed in the film in terms of its direction in comparison to Inglourious Basterds, etc. Did you like this one less than IB?

      Like

      • Ted S. permalink
        December 29, 2012 4:06 pm

        I loved Inglorious Basterds, probably only second to Pulp Fiction so yes I was disappointed with Django. I’d put it near the bottom on my ranking of QT’s films right now. Ruth is going to put up my review on her site soon so you can read my thoughts on it. My main problem with the film was that Tarantino really needed his late editor Sally Menke to work with him on this one, I think she would’ve told him to tone down some if his indulgence. I also thought the first half of the film was very sloppy and just didn’t flow like his other films.

        Like

  6. jackdeth72 permalink
    December 29, 2012 4:05 am

    Hi, Terrence and company:

    Let me get this straight.

    Tarantino has stolen the elements of less than stellar Spaghetti Westerns and hijacked the plot(s) from the old “Mandingo” series of pulpy, sweaty novels. Added a bunch of “Shoot ‘em Up!” and cranked out a high talent, big budget flick?

    Where’s Jim Brown, Pam Grier and Warren Oates when you really need them?!!!

    I thought “Inglorous Basterds” was an okay, highly stylized WWII flick, but not all that much to write home about. I think I’ll wait awhile on “Django”.

    Like

    • December 29, 2012 9:19 am

      You pretty much got it right. There is a lot that will remind you of things you’ve seen in the past. However, Tarantino does add a nice amount of excitement and dramatic flair to it that makes it quite entertaining. I’ve heard some people liked it less than Inglourious Basterds.

      Like

  7. December 29, 2012 6:58 am

    I’d love to see Tarantino respond to this :D
    Haven’t seen it yet but I can’t wait :)

    Like

    • December 29, 2012 9:19 am

      I would too, Tim. but he probably doesn’t even know I exist. LOL. and that’s okay :)

      I will keep a look out for your review when it posts. Is Django playing across the pond yet?

      Like

      • December 29, 2012 9:50 am

        Not until 11th Jan :(
        Never know, he might spot the show :D

        Like

      • December 31, 2012 1:00 pm

        heey! very cool thought. I never thought about that. You never know. You’re right!

        I can’t wait to read your thoughts on Django, Tim

        Like

      • January 1, 2013 6:20 am

        Just keep mentioning it at random times on your show, like subliminal messages.

        Flash a picture of him for half a sec every 10 mins.

        That was a pure joke and for the love of god don’t do that :D

        Like

  8. December 29, 2012 8:41 pm

    Nice post T! Funny that I’m currently working on an Open Letter as well, but to an actor. I haven’t seen this one though Ted did and he wasn’t too keen on it (his review will be up tomorrow). WOW, 2 hours and roughly 45 minutes??! I didn’t realize this was longer than The Hobbit! I might give it a rent but I’m not a big fan of QT generally either.

    Like

    • December 31, 2012 1:05 pm

      Thanks Ruth. I will be sure to check it out. Yeah, I will be really interested in knowing what you think when you rent it.

      Like

  9. December 30, 2012 7:06 am

    Great write-up here T and I particularly enjoyed your chosen format. I wonder if QT will respond? ;-)

    Like

    • December 31, 2012 1:06 pm

      Thank you, Mark. It would be nice if he did. maybe. but, it’s okay if he doesn’t. I doubt it will ever reach him. haha.

      Have you gotten to see the movie yet?

      Like

      • December 31, 2012 1:25 pm

        Unfortunately, it doesn’t open in the UK until 18th January so I haven’t seen it yet. I’ll be standing in line when it does though. I always look forward to a bit of Tarantino. I’m admittedly, a big fan!

        Like

      • December 31, 2012 4:26 pm

        I will be curious how this one will rank for you among his other films. Which is your fave so far?

        Like

  10. December 30, 2012 10:10 am

    This was a fantastic and novel idea of doing a review, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Quentin Tarantino is a brilliantly postmodern director, like him or not, and he enjoys being controversial as you can so easily tell from many of his films. The use of the “N-word” is one that is always going to be disputed and there are plenty of arguments on both sides for and against it’s use.
    I haven’t yet seen Django Unchained as it isn’t released in the UK until mid-late January but I am thoroughly looking forward to it. Once again, great review! Keep up the good work. :)

    Like

    • December 31, 2012 1:08 pm

      Thank you man. I really appreciate the kind compliment. I thought it’d be neat and am glad for the responses from readers. You’re right, QT is controversial and he thrives as such. It gets attention for sure. I will be interested in your thoughts. In case I miss it (been super busy over the past couple months with work), PLEASE be sure to pass the link on to me when you post your review. Thanks again.

      Like

  11. sanclementejedi permalink
    December 30, 2012 12:57 pm

    I loved it !!! The best western since No Country for Old Men IMO. Sort of strikes me funny that people seem more intent on talking about the use of the word nigger than they are about Tarantino’s brave depiction of the horrors of slavery and the racism in society. Plenty in this film to make racists the world over very uncomfortable. Not focusing on that sort of misses the point.

    Like

    • December 31, 2012 1:11 pm

      I’m glad to see someone loved it, although, I gotta say that your statement “best western since NCFOM” makes me wonder abt your taste in westerns. :P (what a horrible hyped up disappointment) hahaha

      You have a point in that not focusing on the movie itself takes away from the focus of the film, but, perhaps that was part of QT’s intent? People are talking about that and the movie right along with. I think the use of the word isn’t as disconcerting as the amount of times it is forcibly pushed into the audience’s faces making it a thought in the forefront of people’s minds.

      I liked the story, thought it could’ve been stronger. It wasn’t a bad movie, and so I wrote this letter expressing my mixed feelings. :) Thanks for sharing and reading man. I really appreciate it.

      Like

      • sanclementejedi permalink
        January 1, 2013 12:55 pm

        good discussion my friend

        Like

  12. ilovethatfilm permalink
    December 31, 2012 3:25 am

    I’ve got to say I’m liking the sound of Django Unchained less and less at the moment. Look forward to it arriving in the UK so I can make up my own mind.

    Like

    • December 31, 2012 1:14 pm

      Cant wait for you to share your thoughts on it Pete. Thanks for reading my letter.

      Like

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