So considering the obvious, this may be Tarantino's most controversial and divisive film yet. I don't feel like breaking it down too much because I mostly agree with what's been said on both critical ends. Light spoilers toward the end of my assessment, so tread lightly.
I enjoyed the three leads and that includes Jamie Foxx. A large amount of criticism has been toward his wooden performance but I actually felt that was the intention. I believe Tarantino was going for the strong, silent badass type like many western archetypes. I'm not saying that he stacks up next to those classic characters but I enjoyed his performance because that is what I saw and felt it worked well with the rest of the film. There were scenes where Waltz's character would continue to talk at him and it reminded me of the scenes in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with Tuco running his mouth as the cool-headed Blondie continued to sit still as they ride.
So the other aspect that I agree with everyone on is Waltz and Leo. Waltz is such a charming presence and much like Tuco of said film, he really was what carried the audience and narrative through a large majority of the film. I've heard people complain that these two characters took so much of the film's charm that it left the Django character in the dark and I feel on the fence with that. I do agree but at the same time it comes back to how appealing I still found Django and his story. While unoriginal, it still did a solid job of retaining the narrative flow. I felt the build up to him finding his wife was executed well and added to the dramatic aspect of the story.
Leo completely took me by surprise. He's already one of my favorite actors working today and what is interesting is that he was Tarantino's original choice as Waltz's Hans Landa aka: The Jew Hunter in Inglourious Basterds, so that somehow managed to escalate the charm in his scenes, which were thankfully all shared by Waltz.Like most Tarantino films, he does a solid job of building up to a certain character's introduction and it succeeds well in Leo's role. The audience knows he'll be here soon enough, but it isn't until the hour mark that he enters the spotlight and steals the show. His performance was Oscar-worthy, but why do I even both making that statement anymore? Leo disappeared into this role and it will certainly go down as one of his most bizarre and finest performances. Speaking of bizarre performances, another part that seems to be bugging people is Tarantino's cameo, but I honestly was entertained and felt it followed in the tradition of his past cameos without being as self-indulgent as he was in Death Proof.
Sammy J has received a lot of attention and praise for his subtle scene-stealing role and I agree with everyone there. The chemistry between him and Leo was absolutely sublime and probably my favorite part of the film was the scene with him lurched over Leo, acting like a complete sycophant. It always seemed to me like the last solid role he had done was in Jackie Brown. Ever since then he has become one of those actors who turned into a parody of themselves, failing to be taken seriously ever again. He really shined in this role and he actually left me wanting more. He reminded me of why I loved his performances in the first place.
The soundtrack does the same as the previous film in combining contemporary music with a period piece, but I actually enjoyed it more in Django than in Inglourious and felt it fit rather well. All with the exception of the Django theme at the beginning, which stuck out and felt more obligatory than necessary. At least it wasn't Keoma's theme...I would finally like to discuss the screenplay and direction. The screenplay seemed to take a nose dive after some key characters are killed off. I enjoyed the episodic presentation of the first 2/3 of the film. I even enjoyed how when those characters are killed, it is done in such a plot-twist kind of way that it could best be compared to the basement bar scene in Inglourious. It is a well crafted scene that carries heavy tension and ends with a bang, but after it ends and moves on, I realized there was over 30 minutes left and asked myself "where does it go from here?"
Unfortunately that is where my main criticism lies. There is no denying that the climax is entertaining but it lacked all the flair and appeal of the first two hours. It isn't bad but I always felt that with films like these, Tarantino's especially, the third act is usually the most polished and entertaining. Even outside of his films, my philosophy is that, if you're going to make a great film, then you have to have a great third act that tops everything the audience has experienced up to that point and I feel like Django failed at that.
In the end, I agree with Mark Kermode when he said this was an overall solid film experience that was marred by Tarantino's self-indulgence as a director. It could have easily had at least 15-20 minutes trimmed out of it to help the narrative flow. Perhaps Tarantino has too much creative control and could use someone to help trim the fat off of his films. I'd say all fans of Tarantino and westerns in general should definitely check out Django Unchained. I can't guarantee everyone will like it, but it certainly is a film worth seeing.
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