‘Django Unchained’ is a bloody curiosity

Bert B. Sulat Jr.
Director Quentin Tarantino’s latest is an A-film pretending to be a B-movie

UNLIKELY BUDDIES. Christoph Waltz and Jaime Foxx are avenging angels in ‘Django Unchained.' All movie stills from Columbia Pictures

MANILA, Philippines – Much attention has been given to “Django Unchained,” the 8th full-length motion picture from American scriptwriter-filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. 

Virtual and actual ink have been spent not just by way of reviews but also analyses of its content, such as a compelling essay by a history professor that was published in The New Yorker. Now adding attraction to the movie is its recent awards haul, including fresh Golden Globes and Oscar wins for Tarantino and Austria-born supporting actor Christoph Waltz. 

REPLICA, MEET THE ORIGINAL. Jamie Foxx aka ‘Django’ 2012 and Franco Nero aka ‘Django’ 1966

Interest in “Django Unchained” is largely from Tarantino’s still-potent ability to fashion a loaded script and flesh out this resulting 165-minute movie, one especially peppered with more ingredients and traits than most big-budget films tend to be. 

For starters, it’s a winking aping of the defunct, anything-goes spaghetti Western genre. It’s also a blood-drenched revenge flick that would make Sylvester Stallone blush. It’s a buddy movie led by an interracial tandem that may well be the forefathers of “Lethal Weapon’s” Riggs and Murtaugh or the less-subtle ancestors of “Miami Vice’s” Crockett and Tubbs. 

SLAVES TO TARANTINO’S RHYTHMS. Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington are forced to be servile

“Django Unchained” is also an aw-shucks love story slash rescue mission involving a damsel in inhuman distress. The movie’s soundtrack is rife with tunes that have more personality than other films’ own sonic wallpaper. This flick is likewise anchored on efficient, watchable actors, including surprise guest stars. 

Its hyperactive script is packed with such verbosity and a rather colorful vocabulary ― fitting, really, for what is an atypical action movie. On top of it all, this is set in a painful time in US history: 1858, or two years before the Civil War, aka an era of slave ownership. 

With such a rich stew, it’s inevitable that “Django Unchained” would be somewhat entertaining. From the get-go, showing the dated Columbia Pictures logo reel, to the 3-second, post-end credits epilogue, the movie is studded with geeky, even trippy trappings as well as standard QT indulgences. 

Watch this ABCNews Nightline interview with DiCaprio, Foxx, and Tarantino:

Inspired by now-little-heard director Sergio Corbucci’s seminal, landmark Italian western from 1966 simply titled “Django,” “Django Unchained” finds Tarantino yet again giving an outright nod to a theatrical predecessor who happened to not have his access to Hollywood’s budget and clout. To accentuate that point, Tarantino opens his movie with the ’66 classic’s grandiose ballad and convinced “Django’s” titular star, Italian icon Franco Nero, to do an amusing, self-referencing cameo. 

Nero is but one of “Django Unchained’s” casting coups, with Don Johnson (“Miami Vice’s” Crockett, no less) and a hardly utilized Jonah Hill providing some welcome distraction. Of the lead actors, it’s Waltz plus a Mephistopheles-like Leonardo DiCaprio and a catharsis-courting Samuel L. Jackson as menacing antagonists who come off more vivid than the rest. 

THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Leonardo DiCaprio is quite the devil

This multitude of minutiae, however, turns out to be a pileup superimposed on a hollow storytelling core, making for a movie that is less than the sum of its many parts. 

Ardent observers can and have cited several confounding points across “Django Unchained’s” two-hour-45-minute entirety. These include exaggerated blood spurts, a wanton array of zoom-ins, and the overuse of the derogatory N-word, plus Jackson’s well-delivered yet ill-fitting use of the MF word that make this, shall we say, a “spaghetto Western.” 

WAY TOO FAR FROM MIAMI. Don Johnson plays a hairy baddie

While the movie’s title alone suggests that “Django” is the main hero here, it’s actually Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz ― Django’s emancipator, trainer, and bounty hunting partner ― who is truly the primary protagonist; the movie should have been titled “Unchaining Django.” 

(Jaime Foxx, who had played Tubbs in the “Miami Vice” remake, is believable enough as Django the transformed gunslinger. Yet he is largely upstaged by Waltz who, while compelling and dazzling, is limited to reprising his talky charmer from Tarantino’s earlier “Inglorious Basterds.”)

If “Django Unchained” deserves props, it’s for being such eccentric fare, and for implying that life is not, well, black-and-white simple. (It may also be nicknamed “Django Uncut” — It’s rated R-16, sans cuts, by the MTRCB.) 

Watch the trailer here:

It is by turns violent and offensive, comical and cartoony, plodding and interminable, stuffed to the point of bloatedness. Tarantino’s best screenplay wins for this seem to be a salute to his audacity more than ingenuity, a reward for creative decadence amid Hollywood’s supposed artistic poverty. 

All told, sitting through “Django Unchained” is akin to watching an excitable kid in his brazen, playful element, gleeful in putting together then destroying his many toys ― after which, in the midst of the wreckage, he looks our way and says, “Pretty cool, huh?” – Rappler.com 


(‘Django Unchained’ opens in the Philippines on March 13, 2013.)

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