I love Quentin Tarantino movies. Always have. Of course, that ‘love’ isn’t level across the board, some of his films have been better than others. Inglourious Basterds (2009) was an interesting and daring exercise in ‘period’ film-making, especially for Tarantino, but it just didn’t quite come together as I had originally hoped (looking at YOU, Advertising Dept.!). Good, to be sure, with some absolutely brilliant scenes but not…quite…there. When it was announced that his next flick would be a ‘Southern’ set during the horrible times of American Slavery, I was intrigued. In one respect, It seemed like an odd choice of setting and period, but then, looking back at his filmography and his obvious love and respect for ‘black’ culture, it also made a lot of sense. So with high hopes, I went into this one. Were my expectations met? For the MOST part…hell yes!!! I had a ton of fun watching this flick! The story follows the adventures of a freed slave named Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) and his benefactor/savior Dr. King Schultz (an AWESOME Christoph Waltz); a dentist-turned-bounty hunter with a long list of targets. The two men, while forming an interesting and symbiotic relationship, engage in a vigorous bounty hunting campaign, while making plans to rescue Djangos enslaved wife Broomhilda, held in the clutches of a plantation owner named Calvin J.Candie, played with relish by Leonardo DiCaprio. As with all Tarantino flicks, the dialogue and characters virtually pop off the screen, giving ‘life’ to the comic-book/grindhouse-like proceedings. And make no mistake, this story is pure pulp fiction/graphic novel territory…and done well. Django Unchained feels like Tarantino is polishing his craft to deliver a much more epic movie experience than some of his previous entries. Much of the scenery is beautiful, from long rolling hills to snowy mountains to dirty little frontier towns, it ‘s all been shot really nicely. The cast is uniformly great. Along with Foxx, Waltz and DiCaprio, we also get Tarantino-favorite Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, the sinister House N****r, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda, Don Johnson as a hilarious Colonel Sanders-like plantation owner named Big Daddy, and James Remar, turning up to play two characters: A Speck Brother and Butch Pooch. Other familiar faces pop up as the events unfold, like Jonah Hill, Walton Goggins, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini and Tarantino himself (in a funny, explosive cameo). As with every Tarantino release, there is always the inevitable backlash from the Moral Majority regarding the violence in his films and Django is no different. The thing that baffles me is: How is it possible that these self-righteous morons can’t see that the violence in this movie is not meant to be taken seriously? A lot of people get wasted in this flick and some of it IS pretty brutal but it is SO over-the-top that it verges on cartoonish. People get shot…and practically explode. There’s an awesome shoot-out partway through the flick where the room seems to simply rain blood. There is red EVERYWHERE! Lots of slow-mo of bodies splashing crimson all over the place as bullets hit with deep, wet thuds. People fly through the air, crash through glass and generally die in crazy, contorted ways. When it comes to the scenes of slavery-related cruelty, yeah, admittedly some of it is pretty harsh. But slavery was a harsh thing and I’m glad Tarantino had the balls to depict it unflinchingly. Something else that Tarantino seems to have now done is embrace the idea of explosions in his movies. With the exception of the theatre blast from Inglorious Basterds, I don’t recall a single ACTUAL explosion in his past films (taking into account the ‘BOOM!’ he put in his CSI:Vegas two-parter). Here, he has 3 really good ones….including a stage coach blast that you’d swear killed half the people and horses nearby. If I had to pick a flaw, I’d have to say that Django Unchained MIGHT be a little longer than it needs to be. It sorta does away with the whole traditional ‘3 Act’ structure and right where it feels like the movie COULD BE ending…it doesn’t. There’s a slightly ‘tacked on’ feeling to the final ‘act’; though admittedly while initially feeling like padding, it does actually pay off nicely, with certain characters getting a much deserved comeuppance. And of course, there’s the music. Tarantino (again) hits it out of the park here with his song selections. Some of the tracks seem right out of place (gangsta rap track?) but quickly work to pull you back into the fold. And some of the ‘original’ music is great. All in all, I really enjoyed Django Unchained and ANY fan of Tarantino movies will get something out of it. Just be forewarned: That despicable word N****R is used repeatedly and naturally throughout the film. If you find THAT word overly reprehensible, the frequent use may grate on ya. But it’s a good movie, to be sure.
*Extra: this movie has a great example of DiCaprios approach to his acting and his characters. During an emotionally charged scene, he slams his hand down on a table top and in doing so, shatters a nearby glass. As the scene progresses, you can see his hand begin leaking blood all over. That’s actually his blood! He was never supposed to break the glass with his fist but he just went with it and turned in an awesome ‘one take’ performance, while bleeding like a stuck pig! Now THAT’S acting.