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Movie Review: Django Unchained

By Bob Garver

Jan. 7, 2013. It’s funny how beloved Quentin Tarantino is as a director despite the shortness of his filmography. Ignoring his work with television and contributions to anthology films (I’m willing to forget his awful segment of “Grindhouse” if you are), the man has only seven feature credits to his name, including his newest, “Django Unchained”. Yet I and many others consider Tarantino a genius because this oh-so-short filmography includes films like “Reservoir Dogs” (1992), “Pulp Fiction” (1994), “Kill Bill” Vols. 1 (2003) and 2 (2004), and “Inglourious Basterds” (2009). Each of these labored masterpieces of essentially does the work of ten films, and coincidentally ten is also about the number of times I’ve seen and studied each one. With “Django Unchained”, Tarantino manages to not only keep his legacy of greatness alive, he’s somehow managed to make it stronger than ever.

Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a miserable slave hopelessly seperated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington, whose underuse is sadly the film’s biggest flaw) in the Antebellum South prior to the Civil War. He is plucked from his plight by a guardian angel in the form of German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz initially needs only a snippet of information from Django, so he buys him as a slave, treats him as an assistant, invites him to be his partner, and ultimately serves as his best friend. Together they go to rescue Broomhilda from a heartless plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his surly stooge (Samuel L. Jackson).

As with most Tarantino films, I can’t decide if this one is better at scenes of tension or scenes of action. Since it’s great at both, I don’t feel too bad calling it a tie. Waltz, as always, is outstanding in the tension scenes. He’s playing a good guy for once, but he’s still that classic combination of charming, cunning, ruthless and dangerous. He won an Oscar for playing a similar (though villainous) character in “Inglourious Basterds” and I’d root for him to win again if I wasn’t so automatically opposed to repeat winners.

Tarantino also throws in a few of those trademark scenes where you get goosebumps even while the characters discuss something silly. Probably the most famous version of this scene is the one in “Pulp Fiction” where John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson compare American and European fast food. My favorite here is one where a Klan-like brigade debates the effectiveness of their poorly-made hoods.

The film is first and foremost a Western (and Tarantino never lets you forget, as the film is loaded with references to his favorite films of the genre), so most of the action sequences take the form of shootouts. There are some gruesome moments early in the film but things really get yucky in the final act. One can’t help but compare some of the climactic scenes to water balloon fights, except that instead of balloons we get human bodies and instead of water bursting forth we get… well, you get the idea. There’s no shortage of violence in the film, or bad language or racial epithets for that matter. I hate to advise anyone to miss out on this amazing movie, but you should definitely stay away if you find any of the aforementioned elements offensive or bothersome.

“Django Unchained” is as rewarding an experience as a Quentin Tarantino film can be. If you’re like me and you get giddy thinking about his other movies, this one won’t let you down. I’ll be actively rooting for the film to do extremely well when the Oscar nominations are announced this Thursday, January 10. It took me until January of 2013, but I believe I’ve finally seen the best film of 2012.

Four Stars out of Five

“Django Unchained” is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. Its running time is 165 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.