Django Unchained is probably Quentin Tarantino’s most straight forward film, yet it is also perhaps his most indulgent. This story of a slave who is freed, becomes a bounty hunter, and tries to rescue his wife has a clear-cut arc. But within that arc we get a lot of Tarantino’s stylized direction.
The strongest aspect of this movie was the performance of Christoph Waltz (once again). His character Dr. Shultz is, not to put too fine a point on it, the reason this movie works. He is the anchor. He is such a great character, written with tons of wit and played with tons of charm, he makes everything around him fun to watch. I would almost argue that without Dr. Shultz, and without him being played by Waltz, this movie would not have worked nearly as well.
Leonardo DiCaprio has also taken a ballsy role here as the plantation owner Calvin Candy, a domineering bigot. He plays him well, but its Samuel L. Jackson who really shines in the villainous role of his servant Steven. No one can look quite as frighteningly angry on screen as Samuel L.
Now what did I mean about Tarantino being indulgent? He really takes the gruesomeness of slavery and the idea of revenge and takes them to as much extreme as he can. The N-word is dropped a lot, blood splatters are more like geysers, and the unadulterated vengeance inflicted on the slavers. He is very unapologetic about any of this, as you would expect. However, the violence is what threw me off, as Tarantino really seems to be going for a fine line between realistic and over the top, and I don’t think he quite found that balance.
The first half of this film is certainly the strongest part. Watching Django and Schultz form their friendship is a lot of fun, and Tarantino seems to revel in the western genre. The second half at the Candy plantation is good also, however the ends start to unravel and the climax isn’t quite as tight as it feels like it should have been. The ending goes on for too long, and also reaches Return of the King levels of phantom endings.
I can’t help but feel like Tarantino loosened up a little on this one, going too far with the length, the style of violence, and the message. However, we still get that great dialogue and those great long scenes, like the dinner table scene, the bag hole scene , and the saloon scene. It may not be his most solid piece of work, but Django is still a fun ride.