With remakes and reboots taking over Hollywood, Django Unchained feels refreshing. In reality, of course, the modernized spaghetti western tips its hat to a few inspiring predecessors, including Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Django from which Tarantino drew his title. But even having seen that 1966 film, today’s Django is something all its own.
Tarantino tells the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave turned bounty hunter who, alongside his German man-hunting mentor (Christoph Waltz), sets out to free his wife from a vicious plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). As evidenced by the preceding sentence, this film has a star-studded and talented cast, also including Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, that elevates an already great script into a superlative movie. Scenes become multi-dimensional as the actors sell the dramedy from every emotional angle.
Django is exciting, innovative and—as all Tarantino movies are—bloody. But it also looks at racial relations in a unique way. Set just before the Civil War, it would’ve been easy for Tarantino to divide good and evil by skin color, or to make the audience uninhibitedly root for Django in his quest. But that more predictable story is not this film. There are multi-racial teams on both sides of the fence, and Django’s goal is never focused on ending slavery but always centered on saving his wife. Django puts his own interests above the greater good and marks himself prominently as an anti-hero, a character archetype inspired by the 1966 original. It’s a love story that drives the plot, not a war.
That being said, there’s enough gore to go around. Guts fly into the air. Knives meet genitalia. I’m the audience member who sometimes has to look away, but for the most part, the fighting was so over-the-top that I could watch it all (almost). And that made these long bouts of action comical, keeping Tarantino’s unique tone consistent through the entire two hours and forty-five minutes.
But the length is the one issue I found with Django. It was a great movie, but one that could have been told in two hours flat. This movie is a four-part saga that should’ve been three, because the last forty minutes felt like a re-do of the previous forty minutes. Clearly Tarantino likes Scarface style shoot-outs, and they can be fun, but it went on too long and happened too many times. Plus, between each part of the saga, there was a little hitch in the giddy-up of this western. It slowed, and if I’m going to sit there that long then I want to anticipate each minute, not hope for the end.
But the ending repetition doesn’t hurt the overall originality. The impressive cast and Tarantino’s direction make Django Unchained a film to be reckoned with.