Now at a place in his career where he can basically make any film he chooses and have the entire world getting excited at the mere announcement of it, Quentin Tarantino has made a western; Django Unchained, a spirited Spaghetti Western/revenge tale; and, it’s bloody brilliant.
Every inch a Tarantino movie, from the uniquely stylish direction, excellent soundtrack, brilliant cast, and boundless blood, Django is the tale of a freed-slave-turned-bounty-hunter (Jamie Foxx, Law Abiding Citizen) who works with his German partner Schultz (Christoph Waltz, The Green Hornet) to take down bounties along the road to rescuing his enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington, Ray) from the clutches of the evil ranch owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, The Great Gatsby).
As with every Tarantino film since Reservoir Dogs, Django has a fantastic cast, and while Jamie Foxx is a perfectly acceptable lead, and puts in a good showing as the strong, vengeance-focussed, crack-shot, slave, it’s the supporting stars who steal the show here; Christoph Waltz is even better here than he was in Inglorious Basterds (and even more silver-tongued), Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as the ruthless, one-note, sadistic, caricature of a slave owner Calvin Candie (and it’s great to watch him playing a character so far removed from the good guys he usually plays), and being peppered with appearances from other actors as strong as Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), James Remar (Dexter), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), and Don Johnson (Machete), as well as another cheeky cameo from Tarantino himself (sporty a rather successful Australian accent – to an untrained ear), mean that, acting-wise, Django Unchained couldn’t be better.
Script-wise it’s hard to fault Django as well (aside from the fact it could have easily been made a lot tighter), as not only is the whole film full of Tarantino’s amazing dialogue exchanges, it’s a plot that’s easy to get behind, manages to really ramp-up the tension when needed, and ensures that, at least some of the time, you’re not sure which way it’s going to go.
Where it does falter, aside from the length (because the 2 hour 39 minute runtime could have easily been cut down to under two hours without losing anything too important), is with the inclusion of an amusing yet totally unnecessary comedy scene part-way through, a few truly poor music choices (such as using a decidedly ill-placed hip-hop track during a major shootout, when the rest of the soundtrack worked exceptionally well – especially the score, and original songs), and Tarantino’s habit of going uber-cheesy when he wants to (though thankfully those moments are so cheesy they make Django that much more fun, and actually work) but somehow none of its problems really drag Django down at all.
One of the best things about Django however has to be the action; something Tarantino’s now well versed in, and doesn’t shy away from at all here; there’s plenty of scraps, blood, guns, bullets, and a mountain of dead bodies by the time the credits roll. But what makes the action so good here (it’s far from the number of bodies; as thankfully we don’t reach Kill Bill levels of sillyness where that’s concerned) is that it’s constantly different; bigger than expected, brutal, funny at times, and just a joy to watch (aside from a couple of rather nasty exchanges involving a pair of slaves, and one instance with a dog).
Stylistically Django Unchained looks amazing as well, thanks to not only the wonderful set dressing, costumes, and high production values, but Tarantino’s undeniable directorial flair, and penchant for fantastical bloodletting; which plays out brilliantly on screen, and makes Django nothing if not fun.
Tarantino’s done something great here, making his best film since Pulp Fiction, and injecting some life back into a once waining genre, by crafting a western worth watching; watch it for the superb cast, the great music, amazing dialogue, fantastic direction, amusing comedy, and sheer fun, or just watch it for the hell of it; because Django Unchained is bloody brilliant.
Just like the sets, locales, costumes, and blood, Django Unchained’s 1080p Blu-ray transfer is something to behold; fine detail is amazing throughout, textures are excellent, colours are wide-ranging and rich, blacks are deep and inky, and although there’s a somewhat softer look during many interior scenes it’s something which seems to be intentional, especially as there are no other apparent transfer issues; meaning Django looks stunning on Blu-ray.
Likewise the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that accompanies Tarantino’s latest is powerful, robust, makes constant use of the rear channels (in order to create a realistic and fully immersive audio experience), features some weighty and impressive bass, and consistently realistic ambient sounds, as well as awesome effects, great pans, directionality, and perfectly placed and levelled dialogue, making for a track any action fan should love.
Slightly less impressive however is the selection of special features accompanying Django’s Blu-ray release; aside from a couple of short promos for a new Tarantino box set, and the Django soundtrack CD, all we get is three featurettes, one looking solely at Django’s costume designs (which were great, but don’t make for the most exciting subject), one focussing on the production design (a better, and more worthwhile featurette, dedicated to the film’s now deceased production designer J. Michael Riva), and a featurette focussing on Django’s horses and stunts (where Tarantino and the film’s stunt co-ordinator assure us that no horses were hurt during the making of the film); making for an acceptable, though not eye-watering selection of bonus materials.
The Bottom Line:
In the end, Django Unchained does exactly what you want it to, and more; it’s a real old-fashioned western that’s been brought thoroughly up-to-date, gives us an easy to get behind revenge tale, built around some great locales and a fantastic cast, and has not only some of Tarantino’s brilliant dialogue, and superb direction, but amazingly fun action sequences.
Blu-ray is also the way to go with this release, as both the picture and audio quality are stunning, and while the extras might not be the bonanza some Tarantino fans may have hoped for, they still provide a welcome look at the production, and ensure that Django Unchained is one Blu-ray you should definitely buy; a great movie, a huge slice of cinematic fun, and Tarantino’s best movie since Pulp Fiction.