Movie Reviews by Reel People: 'Django Unchained'

By Ron and Leigh Martel, Columnists, The Friday Flyer


Writer/director Quentin Tarantino has unchained what might be his best or worst film to date, depending on your preference for a distinctive style that created such works as “Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill” and ‘Inglourious Basterds.” He is called fearless and reckless, but one thing we can all agree upon is there is something seriously wrong with this boy.

Tarantino is far from politically correct in addressing the topic of slavery. He plays the race card with a couple of jokers in the 19th century Deep South. Moderation is not in his vocabulary for this ugly chapter in our nation’s history. The result is a self-indulgent Blaxploitation Spaghetti Western that could be called mock, shock and schlock.

Sure, we’d all like to see some good old-fashioned street justice for the owner and abuser of other human beings. With a brilliant all-star cast, led by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, we witness a gruesome blood fest of retribution that is appalling, profane and even demented. The carnage and mayhem crosses the lines of good taste, but could also be called bold, original, stylish and even compelling.

Just prior to the Civil War, bounty hunter Dr. Schultz (Waltz) frees the slave Django (Foxx), to help identify his next target. Ironically, Django is now entering another type of flesh for cash business, “Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?” This controversial line deliberately provokes the audience with discomfort and thought.

The odd couple encounters the most brutal, crude and foul cretins in the Wild, Wild West. In some action flicks, characters boast, “I’m goinna blow your brains out.” Here, they do it with a gusher of red splatter the South might call a crimson tide. This guilty pleasure carries a certain level of sadistic satisfaction, but we’re concerned some in the audience celebrated, hooted and hollered way too much for each gruesome murder.

In the midst of the inhumanity and brutality, dim-witted characters played by Don Johnson and Jonah Hill assemble a version of the KKK that experiences a hilarious wardrobe malfunction. This seems out of sync with the theme, but in actuality, it is brilliantly consistent with the inanity and absurdity of those justifying this horrific practice.

The partners face the most wanted criminals while Django becomes the fastest gun in the South. But, his ultimate goal is to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Candieland plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). Trusted servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) is steppin’ and fetchin’ for the Candie man. When Stephen discovers the plan, will he tell the “massa” that it’s deal or no deal?

Cinematographer Robert Richardson captures gorgeous vistas and panoramas shot in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Lone Pine, California. Eventually, the duo arrives at the elegant Mississippi plantation that is shot in Louisiana. The trademark Tarantino musical score features an eclectic modern day playlist that rocks and rolls most scenes.

Waltz transforms from sadistic villain in “Inglourious Basterds” to sadistic hero (of sorts). DiCaprio lost the prior role to Waltz but proves he can be the man you love to hate. Cameos are provided by Western oldies Lee Horsely, Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, Don Stroud, Michael Parks and Russ Tamblyn. Love it or hate it, we can violently agree this is not “The Help.” Interestingly, Tarantino says it’s not really a Western, it’s a “Southern.”

“Django Unchained” is 165 minutes and rated R for strong graphic violence, fighting, language and nudity. The lead role was written for Will Smith, but we can only speculate why he declined. Foxx is dazzling and even gets to ride his own horse in the movie. Foxx rejoins Washington as they were Mr. and Mrs. Ray Charles in the movie, “Ray.”

This buddy picture could be considered a grindhouse-western, action-thriller and tragic dramedy; but mostly, it’s a raw satire. The dialogue is spirited, shocking and unchained, including a prolific use of the “N” word. Tarantino stuns, dares and even incites his audience, but he should take care. It is said that a sharp tongue can cut your own throat.

Ron’s Rating: A- Leigh’s Rating: D