Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, David Steen, Dana Michelle Gourrier, Nichole Galicia, Laura Cayouette, Ato Essandoh, Sammi Rotibi, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, James Russo, Tom Wopat, Don Stroud, Don Stroud, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, M.C. Gainey, Cooper Huckabee, Doc Duhame, Jonah Hill, Lee Horsley, Zoe Bell, Michael Bowen, Jake Garber, Ted Neeley, James Parks, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, John Jarratt, Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
MPAA Rating: R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity
Running Time: 165
Date: 25/12/2012

Django Unchained (2012)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Django's Weak Links

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Up to now, the outrageously talented writer/director Quentin Tarantino has made both tightly constructed, polished gems (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), as well as outrageously sprawling works of near-insanity (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds).

And, at the same time, he has been a brilliant critic, somewhat like Jean-Luc Godard, making movies about movies, and deconstructing them in endlessly inventive ways.

Even Godard hit his rough patches. With Django Unchained, Tarantino has taken a small story and turned it into a big sprawl, and the fit isn't quite right.

Likewise, its ideas are so broad -- slavery is bad, movies never show it, etc. -- they may simply drift by unnoticed.

The title comes from a great 1966 Spaghetti Western, Django, directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero (who has a nifty cameo in this new movie).

Now Django begins as a pre-Civil War-era slave, played by Jamie Foxx. A bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) tracks him down and buys his freedom so that Django can help identify his next targets.

This leads to a partnership, which leads to an attempt to free Django's beloved wife (Kerry Washington) from a brutal plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Samuel L. Jackson has a terrifying role as a mean, aged, loyal slave of Candie's.

Much of the movie's 165-minute running time is devoted to shockingly bloody shootouts. Whereas Corbucci made his violence resonate, Tarantino's simply spurts and splatters.

The best scenes are the talking ones, the negotiations, and since Django is so quiet and stoic, he becomes the least interesting of the characters.

By the time the movie gets to its final third, with Django as its main focus, the energy simply fades.

Happily, one of Tarantino's lesser works is still one of the major works of cinema today, and Django Unchained still has enough greatness to recommend it. Schultz and Django bonding over the story of Siegfried is one good moment, as well as the way that the duo parley their way out of a saloon surrounded by angry gunmen.

Oddly, the balance between the great moments and the flabby ones make it all the more personal and exciting; it doesn't feel factory-made.

Nor does it feel stupid. The moments of discomfort also beg the question as to why they might be uncomfortable.

Tarantino may not be unchained here so much as he is unraveled, but sometimes this needs to happen so that an artist can find new ways to pull it together again.
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