Film: Django Unchained
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Jonah Hill, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kurt Russell, Samuel L Jackson
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Plot Synopsis: With the help of a German bounty hunter, Django, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie.
Quentin Tarantino's Oscar winning film Django Unchained is pulpy, a 'sadistically literal example of exploitation' and even crosses the line! Check out what reputed critics have to say about the film that won the Award for the Best Original Screenplay
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
Applying the episodic format and visual template of classic and spaghetti Westerns to a revenge saga mostly set in the Deep South just before the Civil War, the film makes a point of pushing the savagery of slavery to the forefront but does so in a way that rather amazingly dovetails with the heightened historical, stylistic and comic sensibilities at play. The anecdotal, odyssey-like structure of this long, talky saga could be considered indulgent, but Tarantino injects the weighty material with so many jocular, startling and unexpected touches that it’s constantly stimulating. A stellar cast and strong action and comedy elements will attract a good-sized audience internationally, though distaste for the subject matter and the irreverent take on a tragic subject might make some prospective viewers hesitate.
At its core, then, the film entirely shares its raison d’etre with Basterds, which climaxed with a conflagration that fancifully obliterated the Nazi regime. It’s presented, however, as a lengthy journey, one that feels -- both in its equivalent running time and luxuriant magnification of arguably incidental matters -- quite like Sergio Leone’s great The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. All the same, a lesser-known Italian director of many Westerns, Sergio Corbucci, is Tarantino’s declared touchstone here. Corbucci made the original Django, starring Franco Nero, in 1966, after which there were dozens of unofficial sequels, though none made by Corbucci. (Nero makes a brief appearance here, and in the spirit of European credit lines for famous actors playing small roles in movies, Tarantino amusingly employs the literal translation, “With the friendly participation of Franco Nero.”)
Bottom Line: And Django Unchained becomes an almost sadistically literal example of exploitation at its most unironic.
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
It would now be a surprise if a new Quentin Tarantino movie didn't dip into the well of '70s grind-house cinema. Django Unchained, Tarantino's deliriously kicky and shameless (and also overly long and scattershot) racial-exploitation epic, is set in the slave days, and among other things, it's a low-down orgy of flamboyant cruelty and violence: whippings, a scene in which a man gets torn apart by dogs, plus the most promiscuous use of the N-word ever heard in a mainstream movie. Is Django attacking the cruelty or reveling in it? Maybe both, and that's what gives the film's best parts their danger — the way that Tarantino, with lip-smacking down-and-dirty subversive gusto, rubs our noses in the forbidden spectacle of America's racist ugliness.
...The film's first hour is a little...basic. There's a funny, farcical scene with an early version of the Klan (the joke is they can't see out of their hoods), but Django doesn't spike to full Tarantino fever until it gets inside the big house of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a wily plantation owner. One of his slaves, Broomhilda (a luminous Kerry Washington), is Django's wife, and Schultz and Django now pretend to be slave traders to fool Candie into selling her.
Bottom Line: A slave-turned-bounty hunter exacts bloody payback in Tarantino's engagingly idiosyncratic reframing of American history.
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
Django Unchained is literally all over the place. It twists and turns over an unbridled two hours and 45 minutes, giving history (and your stamina) a serious pounding. It limps, sputters and repeats itself. It explodes with violence and talk, talk, talk. Tarantino's characters would be lost in the Twitterverse – there's no end to his tasty dialogue. Not that you'll care. You'll be having too much fun. Django Unchained is an exhilarating rush, outrageously entertaining and, hell, just plain outrageous. You'll laugh like hell at a KKK scene in which the Klansmen, wearing bags on their heads, stumble around blindly on their horses because the eyes on their bags have been cut out wrong. Look out for Jonah Hill as Bag Head No. 2. Unchain Tarantino and you get a jolt of pure cinema, dazzling, disreputable and thrillingly alive.
Bottom Line: Wake up, people. Tarantino lives to cross the line. Is Django Unchained too much? Damn straight. It wouldn't be Tarantino otherwise.
A O SCOTT, New York Times
Django Unchained is unabashedly and self-consciously pulpy, with camera moves and musical cues that evoke both the cornfed westerns of the 1950s and their pastafied progeny of the next decade. (The title comes from a series of Italian action movies whose first star, Franco Nero, shows up here in a cameo.) It is digressive, jokey, giddily brutal and ferociously profane. But it is also a troubling and important movie about slavery and racism.
As such, Django Unchained is obviously a companion to Inglourious Basterds, in which Mr. Tarantino had the audacity to turn the Nazi war against the Jews into the backdrop for a farcical, ultraviolent caper. He did not simply depart from the facts of history, inventing, in the title characters, a squad of mostly Jewish-American killers led by a United States Army lieutenant from Tennessee; he rewrote the past in the vivid, visceral language of film fantasy.
In addition to Mr. Tarantino’s trademark dialogue-heavy, suspense-filled set pieces, there are moments of pure silliness, like a gathering of hooded night riders (led by Don Johnson), and a late escapade (featuring Mr. Tarantino speaking in an Australian accent) that perhaps owes more to Bugs Bunny than to any other cultural archetype.
Bottom Line: So maybe it’s not so different from Lincoln, after all. And if Django Unchained is not better, it is arguably more radical, both as cinema and as (fanciful) history. A double feature might be just the thing, if you have five and a half hours to spare. By any means necessary!
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
Django Unchained breathes its own refreshing, occasionally demented, life into that time period, albeit in a pulpy, stylized cinematic language more akin to vampire-hunter cartoonishness than Lincoln’s more classical reserve. But the art of creative anachronism Tarantino practices in this extravaganza of Southern gothic camp is far more successful than 2009’s Inglourious Basterds in meaningfully engaging the history it’s repurposing. Where Basterds was little more than a larky speculative burlesque, Django Unchained possesses an unmistakable subversive power, its playfully insurrectionist spirit perhaps the modern-day pop-culture equivalent of far more high stakes rebellions of yore. There’s a point in Django Unchained when its sheer absurdity, luridness and violence pose an inescapable challenge to the skeptical literalists in the audience: Sure, this is an outrageous distortion, the Django Unchained movie itself seems to say, but is it any more outrageous than The Birth of a Nation or Gone With the Wind?
For viewers who already share Tarantino’s love of genre, Django Unchained is -- at least for its first two hours -- enormously satisfying. Waltz, who won an Oscar for his depiction of a depraved Nazi in Inglourious Basterds, plays the good guy here to similarly potent effect, and DiCaprio tucks into his character’s effete venality with scenery-chewing relish. But colorful characters and performances can only mask thinly schematic underpinnings for so long. Eventually Tarantino resorts to his usual fall-back position, which is to bathe everything and everyone in sight in gunfire, gore and geysers of blood. Django Unchained goes out on a furious tide of retributive carnage, with its rapacious fops and spitting, slack-jawed yokels learning -- seemingly for a good 30 minutes -- that payback’s a stone bummer.
Bottom Line: There’s an infectious, unfettered fearlessness to Django Unchained that makes it enormous fun to watch, but even the most soaring ode to liberation can benefit from some restraint.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Good as they are, Foxx, DiCaprio, Waltz and Washington are utterly upstaged by Samuel L Jackson, who gives an extraordinary performance as Stephen, Candie's household attendant, an Uncle Tom figure utterly and aggressively loyal to the white master, with a deathly stare, a disturbing, Parkinson's-type tremor and a habit of dropping the N-bomb more aggressively than anyone else (and heaven knows everyone is dropping it pretty aggressively). With muscular tactlessness, Tarantino has taken the stereotype and turned it up to 11: Stephen is a Pétain in the below-stairs Vichyite regime propping up the rulers' loathsome racism. Django himself, in posing as a Mandingo trader of slaves trained to fight, is sickened by his own pretence as a collaborator.
Tarantino shoves everything like this under your nose. Only he and Jackson could possibly have got away with that Stephen character: it is genuinely gasp-inducing. Slavery is a subject on which modern Hollywood is traditionally nervous, a reticence amounting almost to a conspiracy of silence – except, of course, in the explicit context of abolition. As far as Hollywood is concerned, the day-to-day existence of unabolished slavery has been what welfare reformists called the live rail: don't touch it. It takes a film unencumbered with liberal good taste to try. Lars von Trier's Manderlay was one, and here is another.
Perhaps the most significant moments are when Django is trained by Schultz as a gunfighter. From any distance, on any occasion, Django can shoot with ruthless accuracy and verve, and afterwards permits himself a grin of pleasure. Is that a metaphor for Tarantino's own shooting? All I can say is that I matched the hero's smile with one of my own.
Bottom Line: Quentin Tarantino makes a dizzy return to form with a horribly funny slavery western – and Samuel L Jackson is extraordinary as the ultimate Uncle Tom