‘Django Unchained’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated December 31st, 2012 at 9:54 am,

Django Unchained Jamie Foxx Christoph Waltz Django Unchained Review

Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to the widely successful and critically acclaimed Nazi-killing business flick, Inglourious Basterds, once again sees the fan-favorite filmmaker take-on a controversial historical subject: this time American slavery.

Instead of tackling the sensitive topic as a reverent and grounded drama, the director (in typical Tarantino fashion) positioned his pre-abolition revenge flick as stylized genre fare – specifically a spaghetti western. Tarantino drew inspiration from Italian filmmaker Sergio Corbucci, especially his exceedingly violent 1966 film Django (about a man hunting his wife’s killer), in an effort to present the horrors of slavery with entertaining revenge fantasy irreverence. Does Tarantino successfully balance the intended historical insight with his usual stylistic influence and embellishment?

In spite of some exceptionally indulgent moments, Django Unchained is another sharp and enjoyable Tarantino effort. Fans of the filmmaker, as well as casual viewers who were drawn-in by Inglourious Basterds, will find plenty of the director’s trademark witty dialogue, quirky characters, as well as blood-splattering violence. Several thematic points are a little on-the-nose, even for a not-so-subtle writer like Tarantino, and a few unrestrained filmmaking choices distract from an otherwise immersive revenge tale. Still, while some moviegoers might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of story material in the 165-minute tale, or roll their eyes at an especially intrusive onscreen appearance by the director himself, Django Unchained contains enough captivating performances, smart setpieces, and humorous/brutal social commentary to be an agreeable (and stylized) nod to the spaghetti western genre.

Django Unchained Christoph Waltz Jamie Foxx Django Unchained Review

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in ‘Django Unchained’

Loosely inspired by the tale of lost love and revenge in Corbucci’s Django film (actor Franco Nero even has an Unchained cameo), Tarantino’s latest movie follows recently freed slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), who joins with German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), in the business of killing bad people for money. Schultz recruits Django to help collect the bounty on the vicious (and especially hard-to-find) Brittle Brothers - promising to assist the former slave in a quest to rescue his wife Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington) from one of the wealthiest and most dangerous plantation owners in the deep south, Francophile Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Like many Tarantino films, Django Unchained wallows in the joy of vengeance (especially in a blood-soaked third act). The story plays to the director’s strengths, mixing savage and violent altercations with moments of light-hearted humor and sharp conversations between multilayered characters – framed with striking imagery. The early interactions between Schultz and Django, where the Doctor helps the former slave adjust to life as a free man, keep things light until the audience is fully immersed in the horrors of the time period – most notably Candie’s enjoyment of Mandingo-like slave-on-slave fighting.

Waltz, coming off of his last Tarantino role as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds (which won him the 2009 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), once again steals the entire film spotlight as Schultz. The character is just as charming with the added benefit of being on the “right” side of history this time, hunting fugitives and punishing slave owners. Waltz relishes in the role and benefits from several great exchanges – especially when paired against DiCaprio’s ruthless but silver-tongued Calvin Candie. Unlike Landa, Schultz isn’t just a survivalist, he softens when faced with the real world horrors of slavery, and it’s rewarding to watch as Waltz evolves the character accordingly.

Django Unchained Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained Review

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

DiCaprio, as expected, brings a captivating blend of charisma and malevolence to slave-owning Candie. He’s a complicated villain, brought to life by a great performance, that will be right at home with similar Tarantino creations: the aforementioned Landa as well as Bill (the Kill Bill series) and Vincent Vega (Pulp Fiction), among others. A ruthless and self-absorbed man, complacent in his tyranny, Candie is further fleshed-out through his relationship with house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a character that Django views as the most contemptible villain in the movie. Along with Jackson, there’s a host of recognizable stars that shine in smaller support roles (including Washington as Broomhilda, M. C. Gainey as Big John Brittle, and even Don Johnson as ‘Big Daddy’ Bennett).

As for Django himself, Foxx is a welcome touchstone to Waltz and DiCaprio’s scene-stealing personalities – a quiet and attentive player that grows in confidence and effectiveness throughout the events of the plot. Unsurprisingly, the celebrated comedy (In Living ColorHorrible Bosses) and drama (Ray, Dreamgirls) veteran finds use for both talents as Django – resulting in loads of humorous as well as exciting altercations. Some moviegoers might criticize Foxx for a subdued leading man performance but there’s a smart subtlety and patience to Django that makes him fascinating – especially considering the amount of extravagant supporting players in the film.

However, despite its overall success, Django Unchained is easily one of Tarantino’s most unbalanced films – as the narrative often lingers on scenes that don’t carry much weight in the larger storyline – while moments that should carry strong emotional punch come up short. It’s an enjoyable but very self-indulgent production that could have been a lot tighter (and more focused) had Tarantino shown a bit more restraint. Fans of the filmmaker will defend Tarantino for sticking to his vision, even after Harvey Weinstein suggested splitting the movie into two parts, but casual viewers may find certain Django Unchained scenes to be rambling, drawn-out, and without worthwhile payoff – given their respective time investment in the larger (and lengthy) plot.

Django Unchained Samuel L Jackson Kerry Washington Django Unchained Review

Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and Broomhilda (Kerry Washington)

Similarly, in his effort to marry the Django storyline with his usual brand of style and flair, Tarantino may have swung a bit too-far-afield this round. As mentioned earlier, his cameo is downright distracting, especially at a time in the film when audiences should be fully-immersed in Django’s emotional story arc. Additionally, the director is often celebrated for using a diverse sample of eclectic music tracks to compliment a traditional film score and while there are several great pairings this round (Luis Bacalov’s “Django” and the Rick Ross track, “100 Black Coffins”), there are also a few complete misfires that, instead of punctuating the onscreen action, actually break any intended immersion (most notably the placement of a James Brown/Tupac Shakur mashup “Unchained [The Payback / Untouchable]“).

On their own, these small hiccups don’t undercut the overall quality of Django Unchained; however, now that the director is tackling larger (and more contentious) subject matter, it may be time for him to show increased restraint when it comes to implementing trademark cameos and his music sensibilities (among other recurring Tarantino mainstays). This round, some long-standing Tarantino filmmaking staples actually lesson the impact of a few important story beats – putting the director in the spotlight, not the onscreen drama.

Django Unchained is an intriguing mix of mass-market appeal that Tarantino enjoyed with Inglourious Basterds and playful/unrestrained storytelling that, with Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction, first made him a fan-favorite filmmaker. As a result, there’s a disconnect in Tarantino’s latest offering that sometimes weakens the overall strength of the story. That said, any minor missteps aren’t enough to entirely distract from the unique Django Unchained experience – which successfully pays homage to its spaghetti western inspiration and disturbing source material with sharp performances, entertaining characters, as well as poignant violence.

If you’re still on the fence about Django Unchained, check out the trailer below:

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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Django Unchained Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Django Unchained episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Django Unchained is Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

TAGS: django unchained

127 Comments

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  1. So the reviewers here prefer les mis over Tarantino. Hmm. Shame this movie only got one star more than parental guidance. Smh

    • Reviewers on the site are separate people. Just like anyone else, taste in movies is subjective.

      We encourage readers to focus on the content of the reviews – not simply compare star ratings between movies in completely different genres.

      • I am of a different opinion, having actually read the review. I didn’t think it lost too much of it’s focus, because I honestly couldn’t think of a fragment in the film that could be cut off and still make the story coherent. I thought everything fit together. But if you don’t like long movies with dispersing plots, it’s still fine because a lot of people don’t. But in an epic picture (I mean ‘epic’ as a genre), it should be expected.

        • What about the part with the masks? I thought that was awful

          • How can you say that? Moments like the mask part are the best parts. No director would think to add some depth and humor to a nameless group of racists on a raid. It turned faceless bag heads into a bunch of neighbors. One even went home he was mad lol. It’s sooo unnecessary and that is why it is gold.

            • It was a hilarious scene, best in the film. But it wasnt a necessity. And i just felt the movie as a whole was a parody of slavery and the time period… which is funny but feels oh so wrong.

  2. Hmmmm….the reviewer is basically marking the piece down due to lengthy monologues that have nothing happening. Well sorry but this is Tarantino, he does that. Inglorious we had long monologues in French about movies, Death Proof long speeches about “hip” stuff, even Pulp Fiction had monologues about nothing.

    Inglorious got attacked for being long winded, now its hailed as a classic.

    • The comments about the film being longwinded were contextualized for “casual viewers.”

      Still, a 3.5/5 is a very favorable review score but, as Tarantino himself has stated, “Django Unchained” aims to be a more ambitious offering than “Death Proof,” etc. – given its subject matter. In a lot of ways it’s on-par with “Inglourious” but, in the end, it’s not quite as focused.

      We’re giving the movie a solid recommendation but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some filmmaking choices that are worthy of examining more closely.

    • “Inglorious got attacked for being long winded, now its hailed as a classic”

      What you talking about? Some loved the long winded-ness of Inglourious Basterds and some didn’t. Opinion of the film hasn’t suddenly changed today. Some hail it as a classic and some don’t, exactly the same as when it was released.

  3. After reading the review i kinda i thought it would have been rated higher than 3.5… Oh well, i cant wait to see this movie. Im a huge Tarantino fan. This is def one of my most anticipated movies of the year

  4. I would like to add that i never found a Tarantino flick over long or too talky. The pay off is always there so sitting through these speeches/monologues is never wasted time. You never know if you will be getting another gold watch or hunny bunny piece of classic dialogue which is why Tarantino is so captivating. Some of it falls flat, but its mostly a pretty sick mindset so it’s always interesting.

  5. Nice review, Ben. Checking this out today! Happy holidays screenrant

    • Thanks! Happy Holidays!

  6. Every Christmas my gift from the wife & kid is to go see a movie bye myself before everyone comes over for dinner around 7…
    This year I’m seeing Djnago and I’m pretty excited.
    Merry Christmas Screen Rant and fellow Ranters. :)

    • Merry Christmas! Hope you enjoy the film!

  7. Great review ben, its nice to see non biased reviews for directors who imo get praised regardless. The screenrants crew consistently breaks down movies as a whole, not as a fan review. Great job!

    • Cheers. Thanks Trey!

  8. Saw the first show this morning and loved it! I thought the placement of the James Brown/Tupac song was awesome though! It was out of place given the time period of the film, I get that, but I just for some reason thought it worked really well during that scene. I also didn’t find Tarantino’s cameo distracting at all. I just thought , “hey, theres Tarantino” My only nit pick complaint, if I had to give one, would be in the editing. Sally Menke’s work was missed here.

    • It was actually one of the most appropriate uses of music in film, in my opinion. Tupac Shakur is known for taking the socio-political commentary of Rap to the mainstream. And here we have an ex-slave gunning down a bunch of slavers. That couldn’t have been more perfect if Tarintino tried.

  9. (Attention: This person has not seen the movie yet)
    Many of Quentin Tarantino’s movies are my favorites and I am sure many more to come will also make it in my fav’s list. But Since Inglorious Basterds, I have started to feel that he is taking his’keep the viewer guessing’ (A long ramble that is unimportant to the plot or character development/a really important sequence that is short and messy and is given no pre-amble) a bit too far. It has worked for him in the past and I have always seen it as a good misleading tactic, but I think it kind of got old for me in Inglorious Basterds. Especially when viewed a second and third time.
    I have found one thing in multiple viewings of his movies, that he leaves no precursors. Maybe I have Kubricfied myself too much over time, but Tarantino sometimes gets too whimsy. He is a director at times who uses gore and violence as Deus ex machina shamelessly. It works wonders for the first time viewing I tell you, but when you watch it again and again, knowing how the story is going to end, it makes less and less sense. And for me, his movies are visually compelling enough that you do want to watch them again and again. So where the visual and shocking musical choices grow on you in multiple viewings, the plot and narration sort of makes you scratch your head? Even if the dialogues are rock-solid and the commentary is positively appalling, it is starting to make me wonder.

    I have been waiting for Django for a while now. No movie trailer has had me so excited for a long time. I actually watched it four times in a row, I enjoyed the trailer so much. So I am definitely going to watch this, but as I have read the really detailed and nicely written review here, and the fact that Screen Rant reviews have never misled me so far, I think I will now go prepared, since I have a bad habit of nitpicking stuff which in result puts me off of things.
    I know Tarantino sits/dances on this fan loyalty and the fact that he is a bad boy everyone loves to spoil, We find even his mistakes endearing and are quick to assume that its all part of his plan, but every lovable bad boy’s gotta grow up some time, or his badboy stuff starts getting old. Just saying. He still has a spot in my heart and so do his movies, but definitely ‘Just saying..’
    Still gotta watch this first.
    Special thanks to Ben, for fair warning and a precise and unpretentious review!
    Happy Christmas and Merry new year…:)

    • Heraa –

      I genuinely hope you enjoy the film. I’ve seen it twice now. That said, I think we’re on the same page. I love Tarantino and definitely recommend people see the film but I can’t help but feel as he’s grown in ambition, a slight disconnect between his quirks/talent and the final product.

      I love that he’s an unapologetic creator but there are some choices in this one, more than ever before, that (for me) undercut the success of the story and characters.

      It was hard to talk around some of my specific points without spoiling anything for people who haven’t seen it yet. So, we’ll be talking about some specifics in the next podcast episode.

      Glad you enjoy the site and Happy Holidays!

  10. Interesting. Recent topics suggested a SR love-in towards QT and therefore a review of this movie was going to pander to my assumption. Having read this lovely, balanced review, I probably should apologise to all.

    In short, another QT movie. I pray for the day when he makes another film like Jackie Brown, but he seems hell bent on making movies now and until his retirement.

    Happy Christmas to all readers, those who commentate on topics and of course, the SR staff themselves. Just over two years with this website now. A lovely hour of daily reading I am grateful for.

    • Glad you found it balanced Ajeno. I know that some viewers are going to disagree and that Tarantino has a passionate following. As I’ve been saying, it’s a solid movie but, after seeing it twice now, I do feel like there are some problems that are worth discussing.

      Happy Christmas to you as well!

  11. Django Unchained supervising art direcor and production designer David Klassen facing trial in March for sexual battery, libel intentional infliction of emotional distress and malicious prosecution of transgender Los Angeles Music Award wining singer Bralalalala. The director is represented by his co defendant girlfriend Yolanda Marsili in the case.

    • why you need to mention this I don’t know. But he was also supervising art director and production designer for:
      The Amazing Spider-Man
      Iron Man 2
      Seven Pounds
      Iron Man
      Spider-Man 3
      The Pursuit of Happyness
      Zathura
      Into the Blue
      Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle
      Evolution
      Charlie’s Angels
      So whats you’re point?

      • Well huh. After a 1 second google search, it’s probably Bralalala. There’s even a creepy website to go with the name. I need a shower after partially reading it though. Yikes! Keep your chin up David. You do good work!

  12. Ben, I’ve been reading Screen Rant for quite some time now and I honestly do regard it as the best movie site. I also love the layout – very simple to use.

    I do, however, find it amusing that no one ever really seems to agree with you and you always end up having to defend/justify yourself. There’s also that Sandy who always publishes without proof reading and always gets corrected by your readership. The old guy, Vic, who just seems like a prick (no other way to explain it), Kofi who has this authoritive attitude towards us commenters as if we’re all kids and he has to keep us inline. Hell, he’ll even disable ALL commenting on a particular post.

    As much as I prefer this site over others, the only writer I actually like and respect would be Andrew Dyce. He just seems grounded and well informed. I would have much preferred to have read Andrew’s review of QT’s latest.

    I am interested to know, Ben, what your favourite film of 2012 was and what your favourite film of all time is. Just to understand your tastes a little better.

    • Vic isn’t a prick… He’s the Chief Guardian of the Rant. His house, his rules. Play nice or go home.
      Don’t blame the man for keeping it all together!

      • Vic threatened to take my life :)

    • PREACH! :)

    • Love you too man! Keep clicking and reading!

      ;-)

  13. Great review. Just saw the movie. I am, like most people after seeing Tarantino films, in awe. I love his movies. And just like others, was poised to give this an extravagant 10/10 review. But, on the whole drive back, something didn’t feel right. There was something about it that didn’t feel like it was a masterpiece on level of some of his previous work. The points you made accurately show the films’s missteps. Just like you, that intense scene with King and Candie’s death (and the shootout the occurred afterwards) seemed to be the ending, and every scene thereafter felt tacked on. The way Tarantino wrapped up that shootout (which wasn’t the direction I was hoping for: Waltz’s performance as King deserved a better ending, as did Leonardo’s Candie) felt like it was over. It seemed farfetched (feels funny to type that in a Tarantino review) that Foxx’s Django finds such a simple way to escape and end the movie in such a fashion (the ‘cheesey’ ending was similar to Planet Terror and Deathproof of Grindhouse) I felt Tarantino was trying extremely hard to be fresh and leave people’s jaws on the floor, but the movie was so uneven as a whole, not even mentioning the ending. The Mandingo fight and the scene where the dogs tear apart the slave were so, so gruesome and didn’t fit with the comedic undertone Tarantino tried to carry throughout. I loved the way the movie started and I loved every scene Leonardo Dicaprio was in (he stole the show from the amazing Waltz: they had chemistry.) The movie was not terrible, just not as amazing as it could have been.

  14. ^^SPOILER – DO NOT READ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dick’ed

  15. Haven’t seen the movie, but I worship at the chucrhc of Quentin, I’ll see anything the man does. Although I do come with lower expectations. Ben, how much of the flaws would you attribute to Sally Menke’s absence (RIP)?

  16. For another take on Django, try The Movie Blog’s critique. I’m not a fan of Tarantino, but he won me over with this one. The violence wasn’t nearly as gratuitous here – a lot of the violence was shown in quick cuts or outright implied. I dare say that Tarantino showed great restraint here, which I take as a sign that he’s maturing as a director.

  17. Hey Ben do you think Sally Menke’s editing was missing from this as I said in an earlier post? In other words, do you believe it could have been tightened up a bit and made for a better film?

  18. “Django Unchained is easily one of Tarantino’s most unbalanced films – as the narrative often lingers on scenes that don’t carry much weight in the larger storyline – while moments that should carry strong emotional punch come up short.”

    this is his biggest problem in all his movies, he wastes so much time trying to make a character feel human and relateable’ that it bores people (people who aren’t tarantino fans). not only that but long run time and uneven pace are also 2 big problem he has and fails to acknowledge/fix. i’ll just read the comic of this since apparently it’s a word for word (more or less) adaptation of this and i dont have to deal with out of place music and can skip boring bits (like his always stupid cameos).

    good review ben, dont let the fans make you think otherwise. you pointed out flaws that are present in all his movies and anyone that cant see that is either ignorant or a fangirl.

    • I agree. Someone in the movies even told me it was just a remake of Django from 1966. I actually checked it out this morning and the original is much better. The pace moves along and there is no cheesy lines. The original also has a more serious tone to it. This movie just felt like a dragged at times. It’s an okay movie but did it meet all the hype behind it? Not at all

  19. Leonardo DiCaprio nailed it in this one, showing he can pull off a bad guy

    • DiCaprio was aweeeeeeeeesome!!!! I totally see an award or two in his future.

  20. I loved this film. It was solid Tarantino. Most of the other reviews I’ve read are hailing ‘Django Unchained’ with “89% approval”, “brilliantly acted throughout” etc. I’m really interested in what other reviewers here like Kofi Outlaw thought about it. Looking forward to a Screenrant Underground ep on this flick.

  21. Too long could have cut half an hour off no problem
    Nice to see an ex slave getting revenge and whole theatre in the burbs was for Django. Yet, scenes of actual abuse of slaves were very hard to watch even though one knows things like this and far worse happened to real slaves

  22. I saw this last night and although good it felt too long. I think if they cut down about 20-30 minutes then it would have gone a little more smoothly. In the end though it’s another general Tarantino film. It was just average for me. It’s not something that just blew me away. The plots were too predictable and some of the narrative at times just bore me. I say 3.5 stars is just right. Not bad but not great either

    • Agreed !

  23. “Story Beats” the B.K. tag phrase!

  24. I loved this movie,right up there with Kill Bill Vol 1 IMO and the scene with the KKK was something you have to see to believe. Hilarious. GO SEE THIS MOVIE!!! TWICE! :)

  25. Excellent movie! Excellent review! First time on the site and enjoyed the comments and am open enough to accept everyone’s point of view. QT is not for everyone and I believe his most ardent fans expect more each time around and are therefore sometimes less than ecstatic. I personally loved the mix of dialogue, humor, violence and filmmaking style that he brought to the screen and could have watched one more hour had he made it that long. On another note, I read that Spike Lee was upset (though he hadn’t seen the movie) about coupling slavery with a Spaghetti Western and that he found that extremely disrespectful (Also note, coming in based on previews I had no idea how hilarious parts of this movie would be, and for which I feel even stronger about my following comments). I feel Tarantino respectfully treated the slavery scenes, of which there were many, with dignity. If one theme stood out to me and made me think outside the movie it was the constant reminder of the atrocities of slavery, which accurately portrayed or not, stuck with me throughout and after the movie. These were not five African Americans standing in the background of a Mel Brooks movie as I opined from Spike Lee’s ignorant comments. If anything, I think Tarantino pushed forward the fact of the outright horrid treatment of human beings during a time of huge ignorance. I pray Django Unchained is hugely successful and that besides being able to enjoy a fantastic movie, those audience members who still suffer ignorance will be entertained, educated and slightly more compassionate when they leave the theater. I’ll be back to see it again!

  26. hating on tupac in 2012? 4.5 stars..close to 5.

  27. I was really surprised at this movie. I thought it was gonna be serious but it was stupid. I felt like they made a joke about our past and being slaves. This movie sucked and it had no point…. I wish I would have listened to spike lee because he said he is not going to see it!!!!!

    • I agree. It made it seem like slavery was just a bad punch line, which in hindsight explains why a lot of african americans left the theatre that night, LOL. I never really took Tarantino as a serious “Lincoln” type of film maker either. Either way as someone in the theatre said, “It’s a modern twist of a remake of 1966′s Django. It’s not original and it again proves that Tarantino can’t come up with anything original”

  28. who was he girl dressed in yellow and always had her face covered?

    • A useless character who did nothing.

    • I read an article about that character. it seems there was a scene or two taken out of the movie that gave that character some type of back story.

  29. I am not a personal fan of Quentin T. However; I couldn’t wait to see this movie, so I went the first showing on Christmas. I was glued from start to finish. I loved every minute of the movie. The actors were all just amazing and the whole production overall was entertaining. Samuel Jackson was crazy funny and Jamie is simply the man in this movie. Some how I thought Tom Sizemore would have been a better Mr. Candie/Candy. Oops. Just saying. Seriously, the movie was great. I would even like to have it in my movie collection. Go Kerry Washington. The “N” word didn’t bother me because that’s just how it was and still is sometimes. The mask scene was classic. Go check this one out. FYI: Spike Lee is a hater…simple.

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