Django Unchained, the newest product from the cross-the-grain mind of Quentin Tarantino, is a movie I'd like to see again. Not because I am in love with the film, but because I want to give myself another opportunity to love it. The film centers around a former slave, Django (Jamie Fox) and the German bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz (Christophe Walz in a brilliantly likeable performance), who frees Django to identify a profitable target. This is the story the trailers advertise, and I think it would have been an outstanding movie on this principal alone (though might reek too much of the Coens' somewhat recent remake of the classic True Grit). Unfortunately, this is merely a first chapter of a slightly more extensive (and less interesting) premise: Django and the bounty hunter must go to the plantation of a rich (but not overtly menacing) slave owner to rescue Django's wife.
Other outstanding performances are by Leo DiCaprio as the powerful slave owner, Calvin Candie, and an almost unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson as Candie's main house slave, Stephen. Even Tarantino creeps onto the screen as an Australian slave trader. With talent like this, it is hard to lose an audience's attention, even if the plot does not hold its own. One scene of note is where Schultz and Django ride out of town, just beginning their comeraderie, over Jim Croce's upbeat ditty "I Got a Name" - I can't help but think this scene, with it's out-of-place song, is a tribute to the all-too-famous scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where Paul Newman and Katherine Ross cruise around on a bicycle over BJ Thomas' "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." These are the moments when one can only smile and wish work was as fun for him/her as it is for Tarantino.
The film had its moments, but Django is so confident, so charismatic, so ruthlessly devoted to his cause, that I never felt any genuine tension for his well-being, at least not the way I had with other Tarantino films like Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill (and, yes Pulp Fiction, of course). From the beginning, he taunts those who would kill him, takes delicate matters into his own hands, and is only preserved by Tarantino's pen - some might call Django's luck a literary necessity. Even when he is caught and re-enslaved, he is too easily able to talk his way back to freedom. It might have suited the film better if Django was a little more vulnerable, a little less of a stud. And the 2 hr 45 minute time-tag is a little inefficient - or perhaps it's just that the pacing of the film is not efficient. By the time Django regains his freedom, the film is almost spinning its wheels. It feels almost like staying on the phone with a new love, not because it's scintillating conversation, but because you don't want to lose the moment, don't want to let go. Perhaps that is what Tarantino was feeling while making this movie - the richness of the characters, of the period of American history, is something Tarantino is not likely to explore again - he might have wanted to stay here a little longer.