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by Leonard Maltin
December 25, 2012 1:10 AM
  • |
Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

If you had pulled me out of the theater one hour into Quentin Tarantino’s  Django Unchained, I would have raved. The first portion of the movie is utterly exuberant, full of life and the love of moviemaking. But the mid-section, with Leonardo Di Caprio as a cocky plantation owner, is so drawn-out that it drains almost all the life out of the picture before its lively, violent revenge finale. Tarantino has never been noted for self-discipline, but he seems to have fallen in love with his material and refused to hone it. It makes me wish that he and producer Harvey Weinstein had pursued their idea to split the film in two, echoing what they did with Kill Bill. A pair of Django movies might have been more palatable than this two hour and 45 minute marathon.

What makes this even more frustrating is that the film is bursting with ideas, more than enough to enthrall any movie geek, from Tarantino’s homage to spaghetti westerns (red-lettered main titles, Ennio Morricone music, a cameo for Franco Nero, who starred in the 1966 movie Django, and snap-zoom shots recalling a long-abandoned style of cinematography) to scenes filmed in the Alabama Hills outside of Lone Pine, California, site of so many vintage Westerns. Even sharp-eyed film buffs may have trouble spotting all the veteran actors who appear in fleeting cameo roles.

Photo by Andrew Cooper, SMPSP - Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Christoph Waltz dominates the first part of the movie as a garrulous bounty hunter. He disarms us with his Old World charm, which is particularly incongruous in his uncivil surroundings. Jamie Foxx is also quite good as a slave freed by Waltz, but his turn to shine comes later. As his performance blossoms, the film slows to a crawl when we settle in at Di Caprio’s plantation home, where the house slave is played by Samuel L. Jackson, in an outrageous parody/homage. Kerry Washington has a thankless role as Foxx’s wife, depicted mainly as a damsel in distress.

It’s a shame, because there is so much to enjoy—even revel in—in Django Unchained. Its irreverent take on the Old South and its customs, its audacious look at slavery and even the Ku Klux Klan, will long be remembered, but the film is weakened by indulgence and overlength. These shortcomings don’t seem to bother some critics and viewers, judging by early reaction to the film. I wish they didn’t bother me as much as they do…but I can’t help thinking how much better and stronger the film could have been. (It may not help that the writer-director was finishing it right up to its release deadline, with no chance to step back and re-examine his work.) Quentin Tarantino is a uniquely talented man with a passion for movies that shines through everything he does. Django Unchained confirms all of that—along with his inability to edit himself.

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  • TickingBox | February 25, 2013 8:39 PMReply

    Wow! this movie is a Master-piece! had my attention from start to finish. Superb acting delivery from everyone in their own respective roles. Witty, provocative, clever, passionate! Quality costuming., and the soundtrk(music) classified the film's context all the way thru.
    Thank-goodness! for film-makers such as Quentin Tarantino, who produce movies that 'push more than the usual 2 or 3 buttons'.

  • jayare | February 18, 2013 10:51 PMReply

    I actually enjoyed the movie, but I agree with Leo, that it had its flaws. The characters of diCaprio, Waltz and Jackson are so strong and well-written/performed, that the main character of Django really pales in each comparison. Nevertheless I found it kind of absurd and ridiculous how Waltz then had to leave the movie incidentally. In this moment Tarantino makes fun of the great part he's chosen for Waltz. What a shame! And the last 15 minutes seem trailed in many ways. Concerning Tarantino's "inability to edit himself" I must say : yes, you're right. But first of all one should tell the less talented Nolan!!

  • Michael Ludwig | January 12, 2013 10:01 AMReply

    I haven`t seen the movie yet (I`m from Germany and it comes out this week) but I heard, Tarantino critizized John Ford, for playing a little part(a Ku Klux Klan-member) in Griffith`s BIRTH OF A Nation. I thin, you can`t blame Ford for that! He was an assistent director and could learn a lot from Griffith. I`m not an expert for American History, but I`m sure, that Ford-as a Catholic-was not a fan of the KKK-they hated Catholics. If he does not like Ford as an Artist, that`s okay. But he should not use half-truths!

  • Jordan Smith | February 1, 2013 6:32 AM

    Have you even seen Birth of a Nation? That's an incredibly offensive film--that it was ever created is testament to how gross a relationship we Americans can and often do have with our past. You should just read the wikipedia article, as I'm sure it outlines the nefariousness of the movie.

  • Jeff Coe | December 27, 2012 11:14 AMReply

    Sally Menke cut "Inglorious Basterds" and that was even more unwieldy than "Django" At this point, it's Tarantino's show and he 's going to do what he's going to do.

  • Steve | December 27, 2012 10:14 AMReply

    I agree with previous comment about Sally Menke. What this film needed to raise it from "really good" to "great" was some intense editing. You know QT is running the show when you see his pathetic attempt at acting made it to the final cut.

  • Jeff Coe | December 27, 2012 9:35 AMReply

    I totally agree with you heyman29323. What Tarantino does best is dialogue and the second half of the film is a showcase for his writing skills and for performance in general. DiCaprio and Sam Jackson are spectacular during this sequence.

  • heyman29323 | December 26, 2012 6:18 PMReply

    It's funny all of the reviews said how the first hour was awesome. I always find myself completely in opposition with audiences and critics sometimes. It's like we are on two different planets. The last part at the dinner table was really enthralling (except for maybe the shootout) It just sucked me in and kept me on the edge of my seat.

  • mike schlesinger | December 25, 2012 8:59 PMReply

    The record should note that this is his first film without long-time editor Sally Menke, who tragically passed away in 2010. It's likely the new editor wasn't able to exert the same control over him the way she could.

  • Norm | December 25, 2012 4:37 PMReply

    Maybe the should chain Tarantino to the editing room...

  • Jeffrey | December 25, 2012 1:20 AMReply

    I had a feeling that this film's sheer length would be an issue. But even if this film as a whole turns out to be a disappointment, its still an important film and one that will figure prominently in the Oscar race.

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