Movie Reviews for Comic Fans: Django Unchained

Vacations are a great time to revisit some classics. Whether it’s reading some comics you loved as a kid while your toes are deep in those sand beaches, or grabbing some popcorn and taking advantage of those warm summer nights to play “Drive in movie” with a digital projector and an old sheet in the backyard.

And given that I’ve been a little comic review heavy as of late, today I’ll be writing a movie review of Django Unchained, which I recently had the pleasure of rewatching for the first time in years.

Quentin Tarantino’s films have been somewhat hit or miss for me. In high school/early college, I must have watched Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs a thousand times, memorized lines etc. Then came Jackie Brown and boy did I absolutely hate that film. Hated it so much that it soured me to his film making for years. So much in fact, that I never got around to watching either of the Kill Bill movies, which many of my fellow film nuts still chastise me about every second they get.

However, with Inglorious Bastards, I definitely jumped back on Quentin’s roller coaster and thus Django was one I wanted to see. Throw in the fact that I frequently enjoy westerns more than a lot of other films and it was a no brainer.

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Django is the story of a former slave in pre Civil War America who gets rescued by a dentist turned bounty hunter, is taught the tools of the legendary trade, and sets out on a quest to free his slave wife from the hands of notoriously evil plantation owner Monsieur Candie. That’s it. Done. That’s your story.

Unlike some other Tarantino films, Django is actually a very straightforward classic western tale retold for modern audiences. He doesn’t play a lot with the structure of the narrative, like with Pulp Fiction. Instead excluding some traditional exposition in the form of flashbacks, the tale unwinds itself in a very linear manner, which for me allowed the story to be more about the characters than the story itself.

In  fact if you were really to think about it, there’s no real difference in Django than there is in Star Wars or the Legend of King Arthur…its your traditional “Hero’s journey” story, complete with aged mentor, a princess to save, and a monster to slay. Sure, the monster here is the institution of slavery itself, but I can’t think of an uglier one so it works well. In fact, as the tale unfolds I believe this was done purposely by Tarantino, as he actually weaves the old German hero myth of “Siegfried and the Dragon” and draws direct parallels to Django and his quest. Yup, Joseph Campbell would be proud.

In any case, the characters and the actors that portray them are really what makes this particular story unique and special. Starting with the crafty yet extremely moral Dr. King Schultz portrayed by the fantastic Christoph Waltz, who takes Django under his wing and not only teaches him about bounty hunting but ultimately takes on a cause bigger than himself when he decides to help Django free his wife from Slavery. In this way, you see his character also grow deeply from his friendship with Django, which is always a plus from the standard “mentor/student” dynamic. Also, Christoph couldn’t have been more of a mirror opposite from the character he played in Inglorious Bastards, and if there’s anyone that thought that his character in that movie stirred up too much anti German sentiment, they should watch Django Unchained to see the other side of that coin.

Then there’s Monsieur Candie, the evil plantation owner, played devilishly by Leonardo DiCaprio. It would have been easy to ham up this part with stereotypical melodramatic wickedness, but instead Candi is portrayed as a cruel and savage elitist, but one for which there his no chance for redemption because he truly feels there is nothing wrong with the way he’s acting. Like any tyrant or dictator, Monsieur Candie is played as someone that believes he is entitled to do the things he wants due to the power he wields and that power was granted to him appropriately. Without spoiling too much, there’s a speech he gives about Old Ben which sums up his character perfectly and although disgusting in the modern sense, is the same sort of warped logic that people have used throughout time and memorium to justify the oppression of their fellow men.

In fact, compared to these two previous characters, the title character of Django is actually somewhat one dimensional. While played admirably by Jamie Foxx, Django is almost written as a Herculean ideal hero, a stoic and strong leading man, who is unflappable in the face of danger and is a natural at all things necessary to complete his quest. As a result, his growth in the movie is actually somewhat limited. Even his training at the hands of Dr. Schultz is not as much about how to fire a gun but how to stay focused on the task at hand. Although this works in the frame of the movie, there could have been some more depth to the character if he was portrayed a bit more vulnerable at times.

Despite that, you throw in another outstanding soundtrack for a Tarantino film (especially the title track and the inclusion of “Freedom/Motherless Child” by Richie Havens) and you’ve got yourself a real popcorn muncher of a movie.

I know that this movie caught some flack for using the “N” word so much, but really, its done in a way that stays true to the time in which the story takes place. Its an ugly dirty world and without all that, the actions Django undertakes wouldn’t be half as heroic. I don’t for a second think it was just said to be said as some critics do.Besides, I’ve seen “Blazing Saddles” and there were just as many “N” words in that film and its considered a classic. I believe those that can put things in their proper context will find no problem with the way it’s used in this film.

Plus for all you Red Dead Redemption fans out there, It also reminded me a lot of that game so Bang!

Andy’s Movie Grade for Django Unchained: A-.

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