DJANGO UNCHAINED feels uneven and less than fully formed at times, but it still delivers jolts of great energy, stimuli and surprise, as is typical with Tarantino’s films. The movie hits upon sporadic moments that feel truly alive, and make you feel giddy about movies again.
The dilemma with Tarantino at this stage in his career is that his only competition is himself, and the last film he’s trying to live up to is his terrific ‘Inglourious Basterds’. His ‘Django’ doesn’t feel as distinctive as his last achievement, and it fails to inspire the same level of emotional investment either, partly because the character of Django doesn’t seem as well drawn (and not nearly as verbose) as the other colorful characters that surround him.
Standouts are Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. DiCaprio is particularly imaginative in his portrayal of the wealthy plantation owner Calvin Candie; though the one characteristic he’s not so adept at pulling off is menace. Even when he screams in threat, his voice fails to carry much weight. And this is the first Tarantino film since ‘Reservoir Dogs’ that doesn’t feature a strong and memorable female lead.
Still, the movie doesn’t gloss over the ugliness and violence of slavery – an aspect that was ignored almost completely in something like Spielberg’s bland ‘Lincoln’. The film concludes with a rousing finale, though it does feel like it occurs about 20 minutes too late. Many of the music choices in the film are inspired, though some of the idiosyncratic cues do take you out of the movie at times. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is top notch and inventive.
In spite of its flaws, ‘Django’ is still one of the top movies in what has been a largely dismal fall season.