on January 8, 2013
My whole brain starts in the 80's, so for me this film is more likely to send me backwards to study the various influences that led up to a film like this. Adversely, your enjoyment of it is not strictly hinged on how many of it's winks and nods (to other films, genres, etc.) you can pick up on. It appears that several other reviewers have already laid out a laundry list of past films whereby we can view and see the roots of all the stylistic hallmarks in Django. It was much easier for me to diagnose influence with a film like "Drive" which utilized somewhat younger points of reference (Halloween, Apocalypse Now, Cape Fear, etc.)
That being said, for the purpose of my review I will only compare this to Tarantino's past work. This is my first time to fall in love with one of his movies for reasons that don't include wild collages of plot twists. For my taste, Inglorious Basterds was too jarring in the way it constantly shifted from a boring crawl to ultra-violence, and I just didn't follow the plot as well as any of his other movies. Django, however, is very strait-forward and perhaps the first movie he made that does not rely on the same ADD hodge-podge of mini-plots. He still works with an ensemble cast, one of his other hallmarks, but they seem to be presented in a fairly linear fashion. This was the reason I didn't initially care for Jackie Brown. It seemed like a normal movie when I expected a movie made by a weirdo. So, it's sort of odd that this is supposedly part of a revisionist trilogy, which includes the very non-strait-forward plot style of Inglorious Basterds. Make of it what you will, but I see a lot of similarities between Django and Jackie Brown, in terms of the focused plot design and the way it takes an old genre and embellishes it in a way that is both familiar and entirely new.
Although this film feels like Tarantino's least self-referential film yet, it's not all "worship and tribute" when compared to Kill Bill. To the contrary, it shines a vivid light on his eye for detail. Many may say that this is the same bloodfest as Kill Bill, but it's not. Bill 1 & 2 were infamous for the blood shooting across the room, but this is not an arbitrary style element. It is an element which is pertinent, because it's depicting slice wounds from swords, primarily. Seriously, watch the blood style in Django; the blood explodes visually with sounds resembling sacks of water bursting open. Both this and Kill Bill are fairly loyal genre films, and many people just see blood or whatever, but Tarantino does very detailed work. Even when he is exaggerating the exact intensity of the blood, he's doing it with a controlled style.
I went into this movie expecting what my friend called "the most violent thing I've ever seen," and "more violent than Drive." I didn't really think it was the most violent, but moreso surprisingly consistent to Tarantino's other films. It is my understanding that the test audiences had a visceral reaction which led the director to trim down the mandingo scene, the dog attack scene, and maybe one or two other scenes. I'm glad, because as it stands, it narrowly avoided being indulgent. Had the camera held perfectly still at one angle, like Drive, then the violence would have been less bearable. I don't think I would like the director's cut, because if the violence against the slaves goes too far, then the viewer feels more numb towards the violence executed by the slaves out of revenge. On that note, I could have handled seeing at least another minute or two of Django whipping the slave master, no matter if it was merely a wink to "Roots" or not.
My wife went into the movie expecting the violence to go too far, but she left feeling like it was a good movie. I think the humor was very important to strike the right balance. Tarantino's humor has always been a major asset to his films, and this is no exception. My wife even said she thinks my mom might watch it; I'm not so sure about that (a bit squeamish), but I think my dad and my brother will like it. This is a great film, that goes to a lot of length (no pun intended) to tow the line between all of it's elements, from comedy, to history, to gore...every element has a deliberate and carefully calculated execution. I would watch this as an HBO series. Every single actor delivers an absolutely stellar performance.