[Review] Django Unchained

Django Unchained1

Unable to find any other leads to his targets, the bounty hunter King Schultz buys a black slave his freedom. It’s a long shot, but knowing the slave has had a history with his marks, he’s hoping the man can point them out when he meets them. Django, eager to help point out the people who abused him as a slave, sees no other choice to help the man. After they find the group and they collect their bounty, they befriend each other. After a while, Schultz decides he’ll help Django reclaim his lost wife who was sold to another slaver. And that’s when Django Unchained really begins.

Unfortunately, it takes a full hour before we even get to the meat of the story. Django Unchained is a terribly paced movie that doesn’t seem to know what the main attraction of the story is. Instead of a coherent and strong narrative, we get one hour of build up, an hour of window dressing, thirty minutes frantic action, and a fifteen minute detour near the end before we get the conclusion that we should have arrived at long before.

The set up for Django Unchained takes much too long. After the first ten minutes of the movie, there’s a good feel to the characters and the direction they’ll be going in. Instead of settling for that, Tarantino decided we need an extra hour of fitting into the characters and we start getting sidetracked with a series of scenes that could have easily been worked into the character build up the movie started out with. Instead of packing every scene with strong content, each piece of content needs to be drawn out slowly so we can comfortably become familiar with them.

A lot of westerns have slow pacing and are drawn out, but that’s because the scenes are incredibly tense and dramatic. There’s conflicts and power struggles. Constant uncertainty. Tension. Django Unchained however, has absolutely no tension to it. It has that same smug stretched out presence that Inglorious Basterds suffered from. Although the Basterds at least made up for this with a wide array of colorful characters and some really tense scenes, Django Unchained is not so lucky.

Django Unchained2

Which is an absolute shame, because the performances of the individual actors, and the roles they are playing, are stellar. Christoph Waltz plays a very great oddball bounty hunter who is impossible to dislike. Jamie Foxx’s Django “The D is Silent” is very well portrayed. And Leonardo DiCaprio plays the cheerful asshole slaver role with the kind of snake oil charm the character needs.

All the shots and angles are slick and perfectly capture not just the wild west feel of the movie, but also instantly sets the mood for each scene. Just as you’d expect from both a western and a Tarantino movie.

But it’s the pacing and awkward editing of the movie that has the performances and camera work fall flat. At the very best, there’s maybe 45 minutes of actual movie in Django Unchained, while the movie plays out for almost 3 hours.

Even in terms of old western movies is this completely unacceptable. Scenes often get drawn out to the point where you almost forget what built up towards them. Because in Tarantino’s opinion, building up to a scene or a plot point seems to mean prefacing it with as much dead movie space before it as you possibly can.

What bothers me most is the fact that all the movie actually tries to do is set up this humorous skit in which they arrive at a slave plantation, and everyone has to pretend that Django, a rare free black man, is not to be treated like the other black people. He’s a nigger, but he shouldn’t be treated like a nigger. Not like a white person either, because he’s obviously not. This level of hypocracy is of course mostly ignored by the slavers, but not by the slaves. This is a situation that’s built up for almost two full hours and in the end doesn’t go anywhere outside of presenting itself. Again, it gets drawn out for much longer than it’s worth.

Django Unchained was a painful attempt from Tarantino to try and show he’s still a shocking and relevant director. All the famous Tarantino angles and signatures are present in the movie, from the quirky characters and awesome names, to the time period appropriate pop culture references and appearance from Tarantino himself. It’s just so by the numbers and uninspired this time around. Someone needs to cut his budget and give him a maximum time limit for his next movie so he’ll actually try again, because Django Unchained crossed the line in enjoyment in what has already been a well noted decline in his work.

PROS

  • Fantastic performances from the actors
  • Great camera work
  • As always, Tarantino delivers a great soundtrack

CONS

  • Serious pacing problems
  • Someone needs to actually edit this movie
  • 45 minutes worth of movie in a 2 hour and 45 minute movie
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One thought on “[Review] Django Unchained

  1. Huh, you know I never noticed these pacing issues when watching the film. I was a little let down by the main battle, as, for my tastes, it was over too quickly and the bit afterwards felt very tacked on. Looking back now, I can see why someone would be disappointed in this film.

    Good review, made me think.

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