Movie Review: Django Unchained
By Matthew Huntley
December 25, 2012
Quentin Tarantino has made a career out of mixing film genres and then taking their qualities to an extreme. He routinely populates his films with colorful, verbose characters and makes heroes out of the unlikeliest of candidates - unlikely, at least, in their worlds but not to us. He’s done all of this so often (and so well) that he’s essentially created a genre all his own. Soon enough, or perhaps already, we’ll be saying that other filmmakers have made a “Tarantino,” just as we’d say they made a drama or a Western. Let’s just hope theirs are as good as Tarantino’s best work.
Nowadays, long after Tarantino first established himself as a major player with Pulp Fiction, his movies have a greater probability of being a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re exciting and entertaining, funny and dramatic, all at once. On the other, since we now know what to expect from the distinct writer-director, they’re genre films themselves because they abide by Tarantino’s own formula, a formula that’s not as unique as it once was. We’ve seen enough of his movies to know when his own conventions are at work, and while they’re still a showcase for juicy performances, over-the-top violence and eccentric, random dialogue, they’re not as fresh as they used to be. In a way, Tarantino has become a victim of his own creativity.
That’s more or less how I saw Django Unchained, which is a good film but not an indelible one. It lacks that original Tarantino spark, probably because he’s chosen to do with Spaghetti Westerns what he’s already done with other genres, which is to blend and pay homage to them. But because we’ve seen him do this before, his style and approach are no longer as impactful. Granted, this is more an observation than a flaw, and Tarantino remains one of our best living filmmakers, but it wouldn’t hurt if he opted to re-invent himself and move beyond his usual “Tarantino” thing.
The film takes place during the Civil War in the American South and opens on a cold, dark night in the woods. A polite and well-spoken German man named Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) approaches two white men leading a chain gang of slaves. Shultz is driving a stagecoach with a giant tooth on top. He used to be a dentist but now this is just a front for his real profession: bounty hunter. And if you don’t believe him, just ask him for his papers and he’ll prove it to you. And if you rub him the wrong way, he’ll also prove himself the expert marksman.
What’s Shultz’s business with these slaves? He wants to free the one called Django (Jamie Foxx) because he’s the only one who knows what the Brittle Brothers look like. As he later explains, Big John, Roger and Ellis Brittle have a high price on their heads - dead or alive - and he wants to round them up and collect the bounty.