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Django Unchained

It’s almost a given that every time Quentin Tarantino makes a new film that it will land as my favorite film of the year or at least safely in the top 3.  Halfway through his new film Django Unchained though I was feeling under-whelmed and a little disappointed by the film.  Where is all the blood, guts, murder and vengeance I asked!  The only reason I even felt that way is because this is Tarantino! The grand master of all film-makers in the world today.  Then I realized this is a film that is his version of a Western, and most Western’s are all about the prologue leading up to it all.  It’s something all the greats have done.  The film is probably Tarantino’s tamest film to date…up to a point, and the thing his his films take drastic turns at times which is what I love about them.  You’re going to definitely get that here.

Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a black slave that is freed by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) a few years before the Civil War begins.  Django will be granted his freedom if he helps Schultz find the Brittle Brothers.  He has no idea what they look like, but Django does.

In their search for the Brittle Brothers Schultz learns of Django’s life, and that his wife Broomhilda was taken away from him as they were both sold in to slavery separately.  He will do anything to find her and save her from the people who bought her.  Schultz decides that in some way he owes Django, and vows to help him track her down and save her after they are succesfully in collecting the bounty.

They soon realize that Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a wealthy plantation owner who also has a passion for slave-fighting, owns Broomhilda.  They must devise a plan to purchase Broomhilda, without letting Candie know that she is the one they want.  They will pretend that they are in the slave-fighting business themselves.

The first half of the film is about how Django and Schultz get on with each other, and learn about the bounty hunting game.  This comes off as very slow and a little bit of a chore before we get to the meat of the film.  We meet some quirky Tarantino characters along the way, and there’s some fun to be had, but it drags on just a bit too long.   Once we go to “Candie-Land” and meet Calvin Candie, we really start to kick this thing in to overdrive.

Django Unchained is about people leveraging their positions of power, or at least pretending they have more power than they really do.  We see those positions of power shift over the course of Django and Schultz stay at Candie-Land.  They and Candie are feeling each other out.  Django has to come off as more abrasive than he really is.  Many people have never seen a black man in the south riding a horse and are shocked by it, including Candie’s main helper Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).  Jackson, DiCaprio, Waltz, and Foxx and are all awesome here, and they make the film.

Jackson should receive an Oscar nomination at the very least for his comedic effort here.  He, along with all the acting really, make the film.  Tarantino films are always about the violence and over the top nature that surround them, but really they are about great acting and great characters.  He’s a master at building these characters up and making them so unique.  We get all of that in the second half of the film which is pitch perfect.

If you are a fan of Tarantino this is a must see.  As all his films are. You can sense that the editing of his long time collaborator Sally Menke is missing though.  She was definitely an integral part of his film-making.  I still think it’s probably in the bottom half of his films as director, but I’m splitting hairs here.  Go see it.

Grade: A-