Django Unchained - reviews

The early reviews of Quentin Tarantino's first venture into the wild west are galloping out. Does it live up to the king of violence's formidable repertoire?

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Django Unchained - reviews
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The first crop of reviews of Django Unchained have begun to spring up on the web and it looks like Quentin Tarantino’s latest cowboy blood-fest is pretty darn tootin'.

The majority of critics have been heaping praise on the superb acting and Tarantino’s knack of nailing a historical moment from a unique angle - although reviewers haven’t allowed it a completely clean sheet, finding fault with its long running time and lack of focus.

Review compiler Rotten Tomatoes reflects the positive feed-back and gives Django a highly respectable 8.2/10.

Here’s what the critics had to say for themselves…

Alan Jones of Radio Times gave the film four stars, describing it as 
"a playfully audacious mix of spaghetti western lore, Teutonic legend, blaxploitation stylings and revisionist American history."

"It's a wildly thrilling swagger through the good, bad and ugly sides of slavery, with Jamie Foxx as the slave-turned-bounty hunter who's on a mission to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner (played by Leonardo DiCaprio on top villainous form). Ferociously overindulgent in that trademark Tarantino way, but acceptably so because he knows which genre movies to lovingly recycle (Blazing Saddles and Mandingo to name but two), the film is blessed with often enthralling dialogue, surreal plot twists, a film buff's dream of a supporting cast and a soundtrack that acts as another melodious Morricone tribute. Christoph Waltz (who deservedly won an Academy Award for Basterds) gives a brilliant performance of ruthless charm personified as Django's German mentor, but the real surprise here is Samuel L Jackson's skin-crawling portrayal of DiCaprio's manipulative head servant."

TimeOut continues the chorus of praise for Django, which it reckons is streets ahead of Tarantino's last offering Inglorious Basterds, calling it the director's "best looking movie". It said: "Somebody’s clearly rattled the man’s cage, because ‘Django Unchained’, for all its digressive, episodic and frequently ludicrous nature, is a blazing return to form. This is a meaty spaghetti western, heavy on the spicy sauce and ketchup and peppered with the sort of unforgettable touches only Tarantino could get away with.

"The second [thing to notice] is how great it looks: from the period design and incredible costumes – Foxx gets a dandyish blue velvet number that could well spark a trend – to some gorgeous photography, particularly of human faces, this might be the director’s best looking movie."

Django UnchainedThe Guardian's Peter Bradshaw also joined the queue of Django fans and wasn't even put off by the long running time: "Quentin Tarantino's brilliant and brutal revenge western is a wildly exciting return to form: a thrilling adventure in genre and style climaxing in a bizarre and nightmarish scenario in a slave plantation in 1858. The movie is managed with Tarantino's superb provocation and audacity, with a whiplash of cruelty and swagger of scorn.

"Django is a long film, undoubtedly, at two hours and 45 minutes, and Tarantino may even have been tempted to split it into two, like his Kill Bill movies. But Django relaxes and luxuriates in its long form, balancing deadpan moments of awe and reverence for the landscape, lovingly photographed by Robert Richardson, with the frantic orchestration of tension and violence, cheekily giving us crash-zooms on to important faces."

Filmonic raved about Django’s cast and went as far as suggesting that it is “one of the very best” films of the year, saying: “Jamie Foxx is terrific, giving his best performance since 2004′s Collateral as the title character. He’s fiery, quick on the draw, and a bit of a rogue, traits which play to the actor’s strengths and result in a great character.

“Christoph Waltz is a delight to watch as Dr. King Schultz, the dentist-turned-bounty-hunter who takes Django under his wing. He delivers Tarantino’s dialogue like no one else can, and he’s magnetic and mesmerizing as a good guy in this movie.

“This is one of the very best movies to hit theaters this year.”

Movieline.com took issue with the length and typical Tarantino self-indulgence, calling it “bloody but bloated”, but conceded that the director’s “exuberant revisionist history” still sets him apart: “There's no pressure on or expectation for Tarantino to please anyone other than himself, and the film feels overstuffed with ideas that should have been pruned. That sense of fun needed to power something this outsized wanes before the film reaches its ending, two hours and 45 minutes later — it's not a feature that you want to last forever, but one that seems to take it for granted that you feel that way.

“There's something inarguably rousing about Tarantino's exuberant revisionist history, about the way he rewrites wretched eras in the past so that those who suffered are able to have their bloody revenge.”

Django UnchainedMeanwhile, The Huffington Post’s reviewer was “impressed” with the treatment of the sensitive issue of slavery: “Well, now for making the funniest, most-energizing, complicated, brilliant and uplifting action-adventure about a slave turned gunslinging folk hero, Tarantino has more than earned his black card.

“Just as Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds reclaims that war for Jewish heroism, Django positions an indelible black hero as the avenging angel of the great shame that is slavery. As a black man I have to thank him for that. And as a black filmmaker I'm both impressed and jealous.

However, Screencrush.com found the movie, at two and a half hours, too long, but Tarantino back on great form. It reasoned: “Again, from this viewer’s perspective, Tarantino, seemingly unchained from any sort of creative oversight, doesn’t know when to say when. The drama dissipates right as it should be reaching fever pitch.

“Tarantino fans certainly won’t be disappointed. The dialogue is up to his usual standard of witty, observational excellence (and exceeds his usual standards of n-word usage), with several sequences going directly into the pantheon of QT’s greatest scenes.”

In contrast, Movie review blog cinemablend.com recognized all the Tarantino hallmarks in Django but was disappointed that they lacked the “casual Tarantino flair”, saying: “While the spaghetti western homage is packed with everything we’ve come to expect from the writer/director, from buckets of blood to crackling dialogue, ultimately it doesn’t fully deliver the spark we expect from him.

“While there’s no confusing the movie as the work of another director, it’s also oddly missing some of the casual Tarantino flair. He peppers in the occasional pulpy quick zoom and has some fun with chronology, but the auteur’s signature feels faded here.”

Moviecitynews.com agreed that Tarantino is below par here and uncharacteristically repetitive but admitted that the “tech side” and acting performances were undeniably slick. It said: “It is not a special film. It feels a lot like Tarantino playing out a contract. (No, there is no contract to which I am referring.) Or maybe someone with some real talent, but with no real ambition beyond imitating Tarantino.

“But for me, it was missing the curve ball that makes Tarantino interesting, even in his lesser works. It’s a 2 or 3 joke film. And those jokes repeat over and over and over again.

“The tech side is excellent. No complaints. Robert Richardson is still a master. Acting performances are also uniformly strong.”


Django Unchained is released in UK cinemas nationwide on 18 January 2013