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Review: "Django: Unchained" far from silent

"Django Unchained" was released in theaters last Christmas. The film is nominated for five Oscars this year, including Best Original Screen play and Best Supporting Actor.
“Django Unchained” was released in theaters last Christmas. The film is nominated for five Oscars this year, including Best Original Screen play and Best Supporting Actor. Photo by The Weinstein Company

Buckets of blood, unlimited guns and a hip-hop soundtrack – what is this, “Die Hard 5”? Fortunately, it isn’t, as director Quentin Tarantino ties these elements together along with masterful dialogue and storytelling to create the Oscar-nominated film “Django: Unchained.”

The film is set in America’s deep South while slavery was still a defining feature. The story kicks off when a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) is bought by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant. Schultz turns out to be a bounty hunter and Django helps him hunt down and kill the infamous Brittle brothers. In exchange for this, Schultz promises to help Django find and free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from her charming but cruel plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Django teams up with Schultz on an exhilarating trek across the country in hope of overcoming all odds and saving his long-lost slave wife Broomhilda. When their scheme to save Broomhilda quickly turns astray, Django must use his quick thinking and surprisingly superior bounty hunter skills to improvise.

One reason for the film’s success is its ability to blend many different elements: the fast-paced action of a pulp thriller, the witty humor of a comedy and the emotionally evoking scenes of a drama. Tarantino does not shy away from illustrating the horrors of slavery with many scenes of whippings and brandings, as well as using the Ku Klax Klan and offensive derogatory terms to show the racism of the old south. This is also a strategic approach to help the viewer take the side of Django and his mission of revenge against Candie, the brutally racist slave owner.

The leading cast members do an impressive job, making this film much more enjoyable to watch. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz display amazing chemistry and it fun to watch as their friendship develops throughout the story. Leonardo DiCaprio, whom we don’t often associate with playing the villain, reveals his darker side, a good one at that, and executes a surprisingly accurate and impressive portrayal of the maniacal Calvin Candie.

Probably the most anticipated character of all, however, is Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen, Candie’s senior house slave.  Jackson takes advantage of his limited screen time and delights the audience with not just comic relief, but a character with depth and personality. Hilarious, perfectly maniacal, multifaceted and even at times dark and serious, Jackson puts in an underrated performance worthy of praise.

The one key flaw that prevents it from reaching excellence is the film’s pacing. The film runs for 165 minutes, close to three hours of film time, as Tarantino, in classic Tarantino fashion, packs all of his necessary elements into the movie. Unfortunately, Tarantino elongates the script and extends some scenes that probably should have been reduced significantly. Some of the action is overly repetitive, and many of the scenes are drawn out with excruciating detail. By the end of the film viewers are left out of breath at the exhausting amount of plot, character development and other elements that Tarantino failed to compromise.

Yet in the same way, only a Tarantino film could be so long and still be so successful. “Django: Unchained” is nominated for four Oscars this year. In addition to a Best Picture and Best Cinematography nomination, Tarantino is also nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor.

While “Django: Unchained” may not be able to pull a massive upset over Best Picture favorites “Les Miserables”, “Argo” or “Lincoln”, it may be the most entertaining film of the nominations. A bold and brilliant thriller film that touches on slavery and includes its fair share of drama and comedy is sure to be an enjoyable watch for viewers who can stomach the endless violence and bloodshed.

Django: Unchained
Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes
Release Date: 12/25/12
Rated: R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson

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