This is the fourth of ten Oscar Countdown posts from Zuzana Urbanek, where she reviews the Best Picture nominees, and gives her own predictions on who will win.
Runtime: 165 minutes
Director: Quentin Tarantino
At the outset, let me say that I am a long-time fan of Quentin Tarantino; one of my favorite movies of all time is Reservoir Dogs. I appreciate his fascinating storytelling and his over-the-top violence used artfully to punctuate a tale. Certainly, his bloody and vulgar films are not for everyone. But if you don’t mind the punches, this is yet another Tarantino film you will want to see.
Django Unchained is the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx)—the D is silent, he reminds people at opportune moments—who is freed by a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz, one of the most impressive actors working today) to help look for some criminals Django will recognize and King Schultz can cash in on. The two men begin to work together and eventually set out on Django’s ultimate quest: to find his wife who has been sold separately.
Django and Schultz track her to a Mississippi plantation called Candieland and devise a complicated plan to get in to see the devious and cruel owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). They pose as supporters of Mandingo fighting (in which slaves are forced to fight to the death for entertainment and wagering), which is Candie’s current favorite pastime. They take the ruse to its crescendo, but Candie discovers what they are truly after, and an outlandish bloodbath ensues. It’s all like the big bad all-out westerns of the past, but with a slavery twist and much more blood than most.
Within Tarantino’s body of work, this is yet another fascinating entry, but I can’t say it’s at the top of the list of his films that I would watch again and again. It neatly marries the writer/director’s penchants for bloody adventure, blaxploitation, and intricate schemes. And it is one darned good, old fashioned western. But it drags at some points, which might be understandable at 165 minutes. I also felt that some actors are a bit underutilized or perhaps miscast: Leo DiCaprio seems too intelligent and genteel to play the bourgeois thug Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson is equally “overqualified” to portray a bitter yet privileged Uncle Tom figure at Candie’s right hand. In the end, if you like Tarantino’s other films, you should certainly give Django a look-see.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.