‘Django Unchained’ Review: To laugh or not to laugh?

With Django Unchained being highly anticipated this holiday season, it’s unfortunate that while the film is thrilling, tense, and even humorous at times, it falls short in delivering excitement for the full 165 minutes.

Django Unchained is an unorthodox piece of filmmaking. Issues such as slavery and white supremacy are addressed, while at the same time the audience is given scenes that could have been lifted right out of a Monty Python sketch.

Photo: The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures

Photo: The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures

The plot follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a former slave in the 1850s who is “freed” by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) so that he may be employed (still somewhat a slave) to help the doctor with his bounty hunting. As a bonus for Django, he is also able to seek revenge on his captors and attempts to find his wife who is still a slave, all with the help and partnership of Dr. Schultz.

Much is to be said about how witty the screenplay comes across through its characters, but the film does suffer from a weaker second act. The beginning is dripping with promise as the characters come to life and we find out their motives, but once the viewer reaches the supposed climax of their journey, it seems to fall flat. Although Leonardo DiCaprio does his best to ooze villainy and tension as slave owner Calvin Candie, he is not given much to work with in the molasses-slow plantation scenes.

Similar to Tarantino’s other film Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained walks a fine line between a comedy and a serious historical commentary on sensitive issues. While some scenes are overtly funny, others are more satirical in nature, and some just seem downright uncomfortable. Christoph Waltz does a stellar job of encapsulating each of these traits in his character as a bounty hunter with a conscience. He may have achieved more as the villainous and arrogant Nazi Col. Hans Landa in Basterds, but he is no less memorable as the eccentric Dr. Schultz (and earned an Oscar nod and Golden Globe win for it).

Photo: The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures

Photo: The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures

Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington have excellent chemistry as a man and wife torn apart through slavery, which certainly helps Django’s revenge storyline progress. However, the absurdity of his ultimate actions seems almost too outrageous to evoke the proper pathos. The gore alone is excessive and artificial, which completely takes the viewer out of the story.

For what it’s worth, with all of the uncomfortable silence this film brings an entertaining twist to the antebellum period in the South, even though it may feel a bit awkward being entertained by such circumstances. Clearly Tarantino is no stranger to pushing boundaries of entertainment, and serves up a true accomplishment of bringing something unique to cinema every time, even though it may not be perfect.

Django Unchained Grade: B-

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