Django Unchained Review: Memorable, but Not Classic

I've been meaning to see Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained for a while now, and, yesterday, I finally got the opportunity. Critics promised it would be violent, controversial, shocking, and more classic Tarantino. I had fairly high expectations, and, though the film did not quite meet them, I have to say it was a good movie. Beware there are some minor spoilers ahead

4/5 Stars

The best part of Django Unchained, Samuel L. Jackson!

Honestly, it felt more like a 3.75/5. I was surprised to have such mixed feelings about the movie. It started off great, with superb interaction between Jamie Foxx and Christopher Waltz. The early scene in a small Texas town in which Foxx rides in on a horse and both bounty hunters encounter quick resistance from the racist townsfolk was quite entertaining, and as was the Ku Klux Klan's unlucky raid on the good dentist's wagon. Both scenes had some memorable laughs while still incorporating the trademark hyper-violence present in most Tarantino films.

However, fewer laughs are found in the far darker second act of the film, which pits Foxx and Waltz's characters against plantation owner Calvin Candie, played with some distinction by Leonardo DiCaprio. However, I felt like the time it took for the confrontation between the two groups was too long. These scenes were saved by Samuel L. Jackson, who has a great turn as the Uncle Tom-esque Stephen. He shows a bit more depth than usual in addition to his trademark angry shouts. Queue the Pulp Fiction quotes.

In the end, I felt like I didn't know enough about the titular Django. I guess he's the strong, silent, clever type. Django Unchained does, without a doubt, portray the horror of slavery in what seems to me to be a more or less accurate depiction. While the film is stylish, Tarantino doesn't go quite as overboard as he usually does, being tamer in this department than even Inglorious Basterds. This might have caused some of the noticeable lack of energy in the second act. The final act, of course, is oozing with over-the-top buckets of blood.

Perhaps, by toning down his outlandish style a bit, Django Unchained felt more like a mainstream film than some of Tarantino's other works. It still has an odd and sometimes out of place soundtrack, though. Nothing like hearing rap music booming while Fox guns down slavers with six-shooters. Still, you have to wonder what happened to the director who had no trouble including anime sequences and dance numbers in his movies. If it were made by most other directors, I would describe Django Unchained as a good-to-great movie, but, in this case, it's just a good movie. It didn't leave me deeply moved, overly excited, or pondering the twists in its plot (there weren't any), but Django has great acting, awesome cinematography, some memorable dialogue, and some fight scenes that stood out.