Review: Django Unchained

bill bodkin is off the chain…

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Suspension of disbelief — a term coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. –Wikipedia

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During any cinematic experience we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief — allowing the world of the film to envelope us. And sometimes this is a bit difficult to do, even in films we enjoy. Are we really supposed to believe that Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock could drive a bus so fast they could jump it over a 50 foot gap? Are we supposed to believe that Katherine Heigl could really fall for Seth Rogen? And Julia Roberts a hooker…come on now.

However when it comes to the films of Quentin Tarantino, no matter how out-of-left-field something may seem, it makes perfect sense. When you enter the world of QT, the implausibility of the narrative never really comes into mind, because the tale is jus so fantastical, so intriguing that you’ll go along with. Hitler got killed by American operatives? Sure. A lone female warrior can defeat nearly 100 adversaries with just a sword? Absolutely. John Travolta is hip and cool? We dig it.

And when it comes to Quentin Tarantino’s latest epic, Django Unchained…on paper it sounds like a film where you’ve got completely reinforce your suspension of disbelief with the thick chains and shackles that hold our hero in bondage when we first meet him. Think about the entire concept of this film. A “western” set in the slave-plagued South pre-Civil War, featuring a freed former slave teaming up with a German bounty hunter to help save the slave’s wife from a ruthless plantation owner/mandingo wrestling magnate. Throw in a soundtrack that ranges from Jim Croce to Rick Ross to Ennio Morricone and a cast that includes Jonah Hill, Don Johnson and an Australian-accented Quentin Tarantino. It all sounds pretty absurd…and pretty unbelievable.

But it works.

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And that’s all due to the master craftsmanship of Quentin Tarantino. He’s able to construct a completely and utterly fantasical story that you can believe. Like Coleridge said in his famed quote, Tarantino is able to infuse “a semblance of truth” into the film — none of the events and cruelties seen in this film are created from flights of fancy from his creativity. Nope, the brutality and racism depicted here were very real in this country and even though it make us cringe — it’s truth. And that helps lend credence and credibility to the “fantastic” tale.

But the most important thing Tarantino does in his films is infuse “human interest” into his tale. His characters are always grounded in a sense of humanity and reality, well at least his lead characters are. They aren’t just caricatures of good and evil, they’re flawed, complex and in the end, believable.

The perfect example of this is the utterly brilliant performance by Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Steven, the head of the slaves at Calvin Candie’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) plantation known as Candie Land. He plays up the stereotypical “Yes ‘um” slave character in public, but behind closed doors, the hunched over, cane wielding, half-senile servant is actually a powerful, devious and ruthless villain. It’s watching this character unfold before our eyes reminds us that Tarantino, as a writer, is one of the best of our time and that Jackson, the actor, is someone we’ve taken for granted all these many years.

Yet through all this talk of theory and philosophy, we need to get down to brass tax. Django Unchained is an awesome movie, worthy of going toe-to-toe with any of QT’s previous masterpieces. It’s actually probably one of Tarantino’s funnier films, which is odd given the subject matter. Jonah Hill and Don Johnson nearly steal the first half of the movie as flustered members of an early incarnation of the KKK. And the wonderful Christoph Waltz, is a whimsically comedic force throughout the first 50% of the film, providing much needed levity in a world of slavery and death. In terms of action and suspense — let’s just say buckets of blood and nerve-racking tension fill every crevice of this film.

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As for Jamie Foxx, this is probably one of his best roles to date. He plays the role of the stoic, out-for-vengeance hero to a T. He’s probably one of the least loquacious heroes in Tarantino’s cannon and that’s just fine. Waltz does all the talking when needed and the silence of Django really intensifies the character’s motives.

Leonardo DiCaprio, to the surprise of some, is delightfully devilish as the tobacco-stained Calvin Candie. He forgoes all his usual Leo-isms (furrowing of the brow, low-talking, etc.) and plays Candie with a maniacal glee. This role could’ve easily been an over-the-top, scene-chewing, movie-killer, but DiCaprio, who’s probably one of the more under-appreciated actors out there (no Oscar wins, seriously?), plays the role for all its worth, dominating his time in the film.

When the dust settles on Django Unchained, it will be marked as one of Tarantino’s finest films. His best? Debatable…and that’s a hell of a debate right there. But ultimately, Tarantino has once again gone into an iconic cinematic genre and created probably one of the best films the cinema world has seen in decades. Django Unchained is the best film of the year, so unchain your reservations, put a bullet between the eyes of your cynicism and suspend disbelief for the epic that is Django Unchained.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

1 COMMENT

  1. Just saw the film tonight. And I couldn’t agree with you more! It was fantastic. Definitely a contender for one of his best.