Review: Django Unchained -An open letter to Quentin Tarantino
- 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:
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.
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.
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.)
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.
(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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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