Django Unchained

A Fistful of Squalor


Review written by Robert D. Patrick

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz

Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic soiree of bloodshed and molar-gnashing revenge has been a hotbed of controversy ever since the press fastened into their seats for the initial advance screenings. Inside the film, derogatory slurs are said cavalierly and bombastic action sequences flip by with abandon. Outside of the film, wagging fingers continue to gesture that the movie is a rolling boulder of insensitivity. It’s not for me to say whether or not Tarantino’s barbed opus is a salivating, contemptuous piece of celluloid (it’s not). The auteur has always made a few lips pucker with his sour cocktails of hyper-violence and gallows humor. The film is set in a shameful, eyelid heavy period of American history that continues to fray the past and present. Tarantino lampoons the strident, stunted white south by paint balling it with everything from spiked dialogue to jetting blood.

Jamie Foxx plays Django Freeman, a man enslaved and siphoned of his rights. Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, a charismatic bounty hunter that has the tongue of a viper. After the German wordsmith helps Django shake free of his shackles, the two team up to rescue Django’s wife – the problem being that she is trapped at a plantation worse than all the circles of Dante’s Inferno. In grandiose Tarantino fashion, the two men callous their trigger fingers as they bowl over legions of toothless degenerates and morally vapid landowners. The first half of the film splays chests open when it’s not writing cursive with its dialogue. The second half sputters and runs on the fumes of the first half of the film, until it finally hunkers out into a tired, overheated finale.

Christoph Waltz’s serpentine and yet affable turn as a dust cloaked, gray-whiskered bounty hunter is the best male performance of the year. There isn’t a man alive – that we know of – that makes gravy out of Tarantino’s dialogue the way Waltz does. Foxx’s ornery, buzz saw eyes make for the perfect western aesthetic as the actor emits a palpable sense of coolness and contained rage. Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as the overtly monstrous Calvin Candie is relatively unimpressive until a last minute exposition that involves a maddened diatribe involving a particular, ghastly prop.

As a film, Django Unchained can be seen as repulsive, morally unsound, exploitative, and complete pap. As a film it can also be seen as brilliantly acted, smartly written, void of the deplorable and sinister undercurrents alleged of its director, and a good night at the movies. All said, there is no denying that Django initiates a conversation about film. And for that you should see the picture.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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