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Tambay's Epic 'Django Unchained' Review - Kill The Noise (Nothing Is Silent)

Reviews
by Tambay A. Obenson
December 12, 2012 3:03 PM
39 Comments
  • |

- And speaking of emotionally brutal... another problem I experienced while watching the film is that it's missing an emotional connect to match the violence. Usually, in a revenge tale like this, the violence (at least on the part of the hero) is driven by emotion. He's been scarred by the villain in some way, and his desire to avenge or seek revenge, comes from an emotional place. But I just didn't feel a union between the emotion and the violence, if that makes any sense. There's a disconnect, and so the violence, his revenge, his moment to shine, just didn't have the kind of punch that I think was necessary to be satisfying. I was more moved after watching the final 2-man showdown between Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson in the aforementioned Once Upon A Time In The West - sans dialogue, straight cuts, and a flashback that literally brings into focus, the driving motivation for Bronson's Harmonica man's journey of quiet yet deadly effective vengeance; and with mission accomplished, he bids the lovely Claudia Cardinale fairwell, as she wishes for his return, all in tight closeups, long stares, as Ennio Morricone's wonderful composition plays. It packed more of a emotional whallop for me than Jamie's own moment(s) to have his vengeance and save his gal. It felt like there are scenes missing - scenes that would've given this the emotional punch it lacks. Especially given that its also being billed as a "love story." Other than Django's desire to find her, there really isn't a single scene between the two of them, as a couple, that really demonstrates that love. There are a few flashback sequences (distant mostly), that fill in some backstory (events that happened before the film begins), as well as fantasy sequences in which Django *sees* Broomhilda (but again, also distant), and there's really only 1 scene in which there's any real loving, physical contact between the two of them - contact that's relegated to just a kiss, which actually looked and felt kind of awkward to me. Jamie didn't look very comfortable in that scene which is actually not very long. It could be in part because he's not what you'd consider a traditional Hollywood leading man (I don't define what that is, by the way). But other than that, and, as I said, Django's desire to find her, I just didn't feel like we are given much to really connect with emotionally. When Django eventually finds her, and they see each other for the first time, in a long time (they were separated and sold to different masters), what does Broomhilda do at the first sight of Django? She faints, in a kind of comical way. And then the audience laughs. We don't see anything else, because the film then cuts to a sequence at Calvin Candie's dinner table. I think inserting a genuine moment of passion between them (and, to be clear, I don't even necessarily mean sex); even just a scene showing them embrace passionately, as if nobody's watching, in tears, relieved, and so happy to see each other again after so long, and not even knowing if the other was still alive. They finally see each other for the first time in ages, and you'd expect a scene of some kind of release and relief between the two of them. But all we get is him walking into the room, her fainting, dropping a glass of water in the process as she falls to the ground, Waltz's character delivering a comical line, the audience laughs, and that's it.

- It take so long to get to the predictable finale, that by the time it happens, I almost didn't care as much anymore, which also took away some of the punch it should have come with. It clocks in at about 2 hours and 35 minutes, which we could say is inline with sphagetti western classics like the those I mentioned above - each clocking in at about the same length of time, and even longer. But I don't know if it's necessarily long because it's an homage to those films, or if QT's films are usually long anyway, so this is just par for the course. Hovewer, unlike the classics, Django is (like most Tarantino films) dialogue-heavy; so scenes that may have been otherwise been quick and quickly forgotten, or that allow you to simply take in the imagery sans conversation, are instead short films themselves. Almost every scene is like its own event. But, again, that's QTs style, so you're either with it, or you're not. It was a mixed-bag for me. I was with it sometimes, and others not-so-much - and it's in those moments that I found myself looking at my watch, checking to see how much time had passed, or how much time was left, given that I knew what the film's running time was. And that's usually not a good thing, when you're checking your watch.

- As I noted in "The Good" section, as far the representation of women - specifically black slave women, and even more specifically, Kerry Washington's character as the film's lead female character - it's not Mandinga, which I think is maybe an approximation of what some were expecting, based on my script review last year. And if you haven't seen Mandinga, just know that the fact that the two films bare no resemblance in terms of their depictions of black slave women, is a very good thing. And despite the blaxploitation influences, there's also no Foxy Brown, or Coffy either; no Cleopatra Jones, Not even a Christie Love. Essentially, the portrayal of black women in the film aren't exploitative, nor are they exotified. However, the problem here is that the role Washington plays is not much of anything at all, and I left the theater wondering why Kerry Washington took the role in the first place, and why she's spent many Django press conferences talking up her involvement in the film, raising expectations for what audiences should expect from her in it. I wonder if she's seen the film yet (as of this past weekend anyway - I believe the NY premiere was last night); I say that because, maybe there was a lot more footage of her shot - footage of her actually doing more than just smiling (in fantasy sequences), or crying, or looking distressed, or screaming for Django - and all that extra footage ended up on the cutting room floor; because she's absolutely wasted here. This is a role that should have gone to an up-and-coming actress looking to break in, and raise industry awareness for herself; not for a seasoned actress like Kerry Washington. And when you consider just how well her hit ABC series is faring right now, her role in Django is quite a step or two down. Granted, when they were shooting the film, Scandal was in its first season, and it wasn't even clear whether ABC would renew it for a second season; but even a year ago, Kerry Washington's name carried a certain reverence, respect and expectation; not that this is an irreverent, or disrespectful role, but it's most certainly not one that you'd expect an actress of her caliber to take; unless the salary offer was one she just couldn't refuse, or she really wanted to appear in a QT movie, and would've taken any role. But really, Broomhilda is a peripheral role. I'm guessing that her attachment may have influenced changes to the character, compared to what we initially read in the script last year, since, as I noted already, those concerns were addressed and absent from the film. But she didn't need to do this. She does have a few lines, but, for the most part, her job was really just to look pretty, cry or look horrified, and smile when asked to. That's pretty much it.

- I didn't care for Samuel L. Jackson in this; and not because he's the proverbial Uncle Tom (maybe the uncle tom of all uncle toms). I just didn't care for his performance; I didn't buy it. There's some make-up or prosthetic, or something on his face, I guess used to age him; but his look was distracting to me; kind of disturbing actually. More like he should've been on a horror film set. Although maybe that was intentional on QT's part. But his performance also was a little too put-on, I'd say, and didn't feel genuine to me. I can't quite put my finger completely on it. At times I felt like, at any moment, he'd break into laughter, breaking character. It felt like, in each of his scenes, he was in an In Living Color skit. But I didn't care for him. I kept wanting him to maybe  be more restrained; quiet, snake-like in a way - slow, silent, slippery but potentially deadly. He wasn't any of those things. And I couldn't take him seriously at all. As an aside, I noticed that his character faced what I thought was a far more gruesome fate than his master, which begs the questions: who's worse - the slave master, or the Uncle Tom?

- I hate plot conveniences/contrivances. They just feel like lazy writing to me. It's hard for me to talk about what I'm referring to in this case, without giving part of the story away, so read at your own risk. I'll try to be as vague as possible. Suffice it to say that, towards the end, it appears that our hero just might face an almost certain death (obviously, he's the hero, and this is a Hollywood studio film, so I don't think we're expecting that he'll die in the end - although, wouldn't that be a nice switch for a change; if it were Nat Turner's narrative, he most certainly would die at the end, but the revenge he takes on his oppressors that would lead to his death, would probably be much sweeter); and just as he's about to be dealt what would be a fatal blow, there's an interruption that immediately halts the action, and saves him; it turns out that our antagonists instead have what they feel is an even better idea for his demise - an idea that, as you can guess, is far more elaborate than simply pulling a trigger or slicing his throat, which would instantly kill him. The end. But no... they have to get creative with plotting our hero, Django's end. And of course, it backfires on them, and you can fill in the blanks after that. You'd think that, by now, movie villains would've learned that, when you have your nemesis (the film's hero) in your grasp, don't let him/her go. End it then! Don't dance, giving him/her the opportunity to escape from your grasp (unless it's a game you love to play); just pull the trigger and end it. When that happened in the film, I just scoffed at it, and laughed. Of course THAT thing that we know so well about Hollywood movies, happens! It's too damn predictable, and like I said, felt lazy, and I was surprised QT actually went with that rather soft, lame choice. Surprise me!

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39 Comments

  • Serene | September 15, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    I agree with what was said in other comments, that the scenes of slaves forced to fight each other and being ripped apart by dogs were horrifyingly unrestrained. I saw this film in the theater and was extremely uncomfortable during these drawn out scenes. I think that choice was intentional. One of the few times a QT movie is intentionally uncomfortable during violence rather than making violence seem badass. I am usually not in favor of excessive violence, but for this choice I give QT kudos.

  • Nadia | December 31, 2012 8:57 AMReply

    I finally saw it last night and I think this part of your review sums the whole thing up: "And above all else - if there's one thing that you should take away from all this, despite the backdrop on which this story unfolds - it's still very much a QT movie. His name and everything his name conjures up in your heads when it's mentioned, trumps the fact that it's a slave narrative. He's an "entertainment" filmmaker - obviously a smart, informed one too. But he's not out to affect change in the world, or inspire/incite action against, or for a specific cause, or force you to re-examine the path you've chosen to take in your life. He wants you to walk out of the theater after sitting through 2 1/2 hours of his movies, saying, "fuck yes, that was an awesome fucking kick-ass movie, alright!"" That pretty much sums it up. People can't get worked up about this movie because it's not that kinda movie. You've got to be dense if you're going to see this thinking it's going to be something all heavy and serious about slavery, especially since it's directed by Tarantino. If you've seen his past films, you should know what you're in for. Either you roll with it or you don't. But don't get all pissed off if you're seeing it expecting one kind of movie but get something totally different.

  • akroc | December 30, 2012 8:29 PMReply

    So a scene in which a slave gets ripped apart by dogs. And a scene when one slave is forced to bash another one in the head with a hammer after pushing his eyes in is restrained?

  • Stan | December 27, 2012 12:30 AMReply

    Restrained depiction of violence against slaves? Showing a slave getting ripped apart alive by attack dogs is restrained? I usually love Tarantino's films, but scenes like that seem out of place in his usual world of comic violence. They belong in more serious and reverent depictions of slavery's horrors. I am not offended by this film, I was just left feeling uncomfortable. The best analogy I can think of is Inglourious Basterds with some gas chamber scenes thrown in there. Anyways, thanks for the thoughtful review, and I am finding everyone's opinions very interesting. At least this film is sparking a lot of debate.

  • bashe | December 26, 2012 11:19 PMReply

    I can't---for the life of me---figure out why anyone would complain about the length of a review, any review. There's no such thing as required reading on-line, is there? Anyway, I really appreciated this in-depth response to the film. I agreed with some of your points/stances, some I didn't (I thought Sam Jackson was mesmerizing, and brought his character to life in a layered, multi-faceted, deeply disturbing performance---I completely agreed with what Wesley Morris said about Jackson's performance in the Boston Globe), but I deeply appreciate your stretching out on this film the way you did. Thank you.

  • DLG | December 25, 2012 12:19 PMReply

    Thanks - this is the most objective take/review that I have read including the one by Skip Gates. Not being a big Tarantino fan I won't be seeing the flick until it comes out on DVD and I can get from the library. From what I can gather DU is pretty much a pulp movie like Tarzan (Django) and Jane (Brunhilde)

  • Alex | December 24, 2012 8:31 AMReply

    "..but it's also not quite successful as this mish-mash send-up of previous popular genres, in my humble opinion"

    Humble? I just read 4 pages of anything but!
    This essay was definitely worth a read - you referenced far too many other films you wanted it to be like and it's plain to see you had no intention of ever liking this film from the beginning - thats cool - maybe, like me sometimes, you play the devils advocate or just do not like to go with grain. That is a wonderful stance to have. However all your essay made me want to do was see the movie. It's like everyone, including yourself, expected more than what we know Tarantino can offer. Revenge flicks that turn the conventional on its head : What if a white, blonde bride took on 88 crazy yakuza's ; what if a bunch of girls take on a psychotic stunt man?; A Jewish woman, duping a Nazi coupe in a french cinema with a black guy as her lover?; hey what if a black slave just decided to go on the war path and get his wife back?... but its set in the wild west.
    Old concepts using misplaced vehicles as the hook. Don't believe the hype? it's tarantino, there is always hype. Just most people (black people) were getting ahead of themselves because of the subject matter. Understandable - it's a subject matter, like the Holocaust that when broached can breach a lines of disrespect and ignorance. However it's a Tarantino flick - nothing more or less. I know exactly what I'm going to be getting; humour, cynicism and a whole lot of air kisses to films of old because that man loves to pay homage to his influences.

  • THE FIRST | December 23, 2012 8:25 PMReply

    I wished you would've condensed this into a 1500- word essay.

  • Aquarius | January 4, 2013 3:26 AM

    Touche Alex.

  • fish | December 23, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    great review. One of the best movie criticisms I have seen in a while.

  • Blackman | December 23, 2012 11:44 AMReply

    Brevity DUDE! This is a blog. We are NOT your professors. Learn to keep Shi! simple, direct and PLAIN. I got better shi! to read than a 4 page right up on a movie. Besides, who does this? Roger & Ebert never did.

  • Tambay | December 23, 2012 12:11 PM

    I could give a shit who else does this. This is how I do it. If it's too long for you, don't read it and move on to something that's more your speed. Stop whining!

  • turner | December 22, 2012 5:07 PMReply

    More like a thesis than a review... TMI

  • Aquarius | January 4, 2013 3:30 AM

    You're an excellent writer Tambay, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review. However, it was a tad long.

  • yemi toure | December 20, 2012 7:55 PMReply

    Quentin Tarantino has the word "nigger" in "Django Unchained" 110 times. What??? What is his underlying point for using it *that many* times? And if you say, "That's just how it was, back then," how many times will we hear "cracker"?

  • ska-triumph | December 15, 2012 10:58 PMReply

    While I look forward to reading this review, Sergio's take, and all of the insightful, passionate comments, after having seen the film at an AMPAS screening last week, I can at least pass my two cents. It's all Tarantino in tone and taste. Darkly comic, openly explotative, cartoonish violent, testosterone-driven, sociopolitial simple. That being said it's a good slavery-revenge/spaghetti-western mashup flick; a beautifully shot mess in every way but performance; the committed cast chewed up every minute. More insights to come I'm sure... Vigilance.

  • Aquarius | January 4, 2013 3:41 AM

    @YEMI TOURE, Black folks were either referred to as Niggers, or Nigras back then. Why do people continue to harp on QT's usage of this word? It's like when black folks were outraged by the way the maids spoke in The Help, as if black maids in the very deep south didn't actually speak that way. It's unfortunate, but there was a time in this country's history when we were referred to as Nigger wenches and bucks. That's just the truth, however ugly it may be.

  • cruz77 | December 14, 2012 2:16 AMReply

    thanks for a real review. way too many are just, "i love this, so enjoyable" without actually explaining why

  • Lox | December 13, 2012 11:36 AMReply

    So no award nomination for any black character in this film. We are reduced to playing extra in our own story again!! No plan to see it thank you very much.

  • that dude | December 15, 2012 11:15 AM

    What do awards have to do with a movie itself? Some of the greatest black films and black performances of all time have not been recognized by award organizations.

  • SameOl' | December 13, 2012 9:30 AMReply

    This is the same ol' bs served up to try to get Black folks' money. Leave it alone. Golden Globes nominated the movie and qt and all da gud yt folk, but nobody else. Don't fall for it. Tell 'em where they can stick this sh*t!

  • Rye | December 26, 2012 6:50 PM

    Your absolutely right...another ploy to get our money.

  • CANDI | December 13, 2012 9:22 AMReply

    GOLDEN GLOBE NOMS FOR DJANGO
    LEO
    CHRISTOPHER
    QUENTIN

  • Africameleon | December 13, 2012 12:43 AMReply

    Ya'll are a mess.... I gotta job. I can't read all this!!!

  • Monique A. Williams | December 12, 2012 10:02 PMReply

    Great, balanced review. I know QT wasn't trying to make another Goodbye Uncle atom, and I'm interested in seeing how he spun this. More intrigued by the day! Thanks for the lengthy, indepth review, Tambay!

  • JMac | December 12, 2012 8:20 PMReply

    As always thanks for the thorough review. I had no plans to see it and still don't but I like reading balanced reviews on hot button movies. Especially glad that this doesn't have some Mandinga/sex slave exploitation sh%t in it. I accidently came across that movie without knowing what it was, watched 10 minutes then shut it off before it scarred me for life. Considering this film seems weaker on the violence (which would be the only reason many people would want to watch such a film), I have a silent wish that perhaps QT will be "persuaded" to find a better use of his time than churning out more slave movies.

  • Agent K | December 12, 2012 7:36 PMReply

    After hearing Calvinis killed by Schultz, what can be worse for Sam's character? Were his hands chopped off?

  • jacetooon | December 12, 2012 7:28 PMReply

    Man way to spoil Django 1966.

  • Orville | December 12, 2012 7:03 PMReply

    Nice review Tambay, I am disappointed that Kerry Washington's character Broomhilda wasn't a major role in this film. But I disagree with Tambay about Kerry Washington taking the part now. Besides Scandal virtually ALL of Kerry Washington's films she's been in a supporting role.

    It is interesting, that only on television Kerry's gotten the opportunity to be the female lead role.
    Interesting also, you say Tambay that you think it is a step down for Kerry but I think Kerry is actually smart for taking this role. Let's face it, Hollywood is about publicity and Kerry Washington knows being in a Tarantino film is going to get her name in the papers. Although, I will say I agree with Tambay that Scandal is truly Kerry's breakthrough role and not Django Unchained. I am hoping that Hollywood takes notice of Kerry and finally gives her a lead in a Hollywood film I would love to see her in a romantic drama where she is the female lead and the main star of the film.

  • nika | December 22, 2012 5:43 PM

    Agreed, KW has been in supporting roles up until now. A year ago this would have been a role she should have taken, even though the author disagrees. The only reason we think it's a step down now is because of Scandal. Now, I will say KW has been underrated all of this time. Now her name is finally on the radar. Scandal did it and Django will help keep it there even if it's a small role.

  • Michael | December 12, 2012 6:51 PMReply

    Really smart, thoughtful review. I agree with the bulk of your assessment, although I think I enjoyed Christoph Waltz a bit more than you did. He was masterful in setting the tone of the film early on, and has a unique way of individualizing QT's dialogue, when he often seems to write the bulk of his characters with the same voice. I thought Jamie was quite solid, and I was very apprehensive about his ability to pull off the roll. At 165 minutes, it felt about 20-25 minutes too long, but ultimately I enjoyed it much more than Inglorious Basterds.

  • Justin W | December 12, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    After reading this, it seems most of fears about the film have been erased. Thanks for the good read Tambay.

  • Skud Wilkins | December 12, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    ''This is a role that should have gone to an up-and-coming actress looking to break in, and raise industry awareness for herself; not for a seasoned actress like Kerry Washington.'' Heh. Very interesting review, except for this bit. Next time Tarantino should hire you to do the casting.

  • Donella | December 12, 2012 5:32 PMReply

    Well, you've thought long and hard on this, Tambay.

  • Curtis | December 12, 2012 4:28 PMReply

    This movie is gettin rave reviews. Looks like it is living up to the hype. It's rotten tomatoes score is 100% with 19 reviews so far. I will be there opening day. So happy for the cast.

  • Les Grossman | December 12, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    i skipped "The Bad" section.k,thanx,bye!!

  • Tamara | December 12, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    Ah, thanks for your thoughts on the film. With what you posit, it's as if QT brought marshmallows to a clambake. I love your mentions and comparisons/contrasts of the original Django as well as Mandingo and Mandinga (which I did not know existed), Ingloriuos Basterds, as well as the overall blaxploitation flavor attributed to QT's filmmaking aesthetic. What you mention of Leo DiCaprio and his babyface as you put it. I have to say that it took me some years to see through his baby face to the man he is in the character he embodies. Don't worry, you'll get there, too. LOL. I'm on the fence with Broomhilda von Shaft, the name as well as the character/ization, but I look forward to drawing conclusions of my own. Likewise, the overall regarding the depiction of a slavery piece too soft, not soft enough, too hard, too violent, graphic, real, dramatized, romanticized, etc. again thank you for not spoiling but giving enough to continue to pique my interest in this work. I'm a fair-weather QT fan, as well as a fair-weather spaghetti western blaxploitation pulp fan, but Django has been all thanks to S&A on my must-see list since its public announcement upon QTs inception of the work. As I said in Sergio's post, I look forward to QTs other slavery-era ideas for pictures. I'm interested, indeed and that is a good first step up from fair-weather, no? Take care.

  • B | December 12, 2012 3:53 PMReply

    DVD for me... Thanks for a balanced review.

  • Taz | December 12, 2012 3:49 PMReply

    "As an aside, I noticed that his character faced what I thought was a far more gruesome fate than his master, which begs the questions: who's worse - the slave master, or the Uncle Tom?"

    From my point of view of reading comments on this blog and others, the black man is worse because we do not give them any grace, mercy, slack, or a teeny piece of tissue to wipe the crap off their behinds.

    Otherwise, this was a decent review.

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