‘Django Unchained:’ A fun resurrection of an old series

January 3, 2013 

The Django movies are odd ducks.

For one thing, there’s like thirty of them. For another, almost all of the “sequels” --violent spaghetti westerns about a guy named Django -- were unauthorized cash-ins on the success of the original made way back in 1966. I’m sure this wanton disregard for copyright law was annoying at the time. It’s a form of robbery, after all. You know what else is robbery? Cattle rustling and stagecoach holdups. And if westerns are to be believed -- and I sure hope they are, because they’re my only source of knowledge about the Old West -- that kind of shenanigans used to get a dude hanged.

On the other hand, guys like Django always make robbery look so cool.

Being ripped off is what Django would have wanted, if for no other reason than to give him a new excuse to drag the ol’ Gatling gun out of the coffin and go on another rampage. And because of all that character-piracy, Django wasn’t just one more cult film lost to everyone except video store clerks. It became a phenomenon. A living thing. More than fifty years later, it’s still being reincarnated in movies like Django Unchained.

Bounty hunter Christoph Waltz has a problem: he doesn’t know what his latest targets look like. But slave Django (Jamie Foxx) does. After buying Django from his captors, Waltz offers him a deal. Help him track down his bounties, and he’ll make Django a free man.

But Waltz soon learns Django was married. His former master separated him from his wife. To get her back, the newfound partners will have to travel to the plantation of Leonardo DiCaprio, who has no intention of letting Django’s wife go.

Django Unchained is directed by Quentin Tarantino, because duh. The original movie is a cheaply-made cult classic about a guy who found a way to combine his two main loves: looking amazingly cool, and shooting people. There are few certainties in life, but “Quentin Tarantino will make his own Django movie” probably could have been added to death and taxes.

Which is just fine, because he’s a perfect fit. The pulpy story of love, violence, and revenge is right up his alley, and he fills the moments he’s not slinging gobs of blood around with his typically excellent dialogue. In fact, this might be the funniest movie he’s made, which has as much to do with Waltz’s delivery as anything. That guy is a good acting-guy.

There are a lot of great scenes here, too. Tarantino’s pretty amazing with suspense. Even though you know there’s about a 50/50 chance that any given scene is going to end with a scene of extravagant violence, you never really know where it’s going to come from. It’s like a jack-in-the-box, except instead of momentarily startling you and then leaving you disappointed, it’s great.

Thing is, Django Unchained sometimes feels like nothing more than a bunch of great scenes hung around a loose plot. It’s like stringing gorgeous ornaments from a dead tree. I made that comparison because I’m sitting next to a Christmas tree. It’s going to be at least another month before I put it away, so get used to more fir-based metaphors.

As I was saying -- this isn’t the tightest movie in the world. There are times when the characters’ methods feel circuitous. And after a run time comparable to a theatrical cut of a Lord of the Rings entry, the ending is anticlimactic.

That adds up to the feeling that it could have been better. Especially coming during a strong year for movies. Despite feeling like the sum of its parts, Django Unchained still is funny, tense, and highly entertaining. It’s the second-best Django movie ever made!

Grade: B+

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere.

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