He is a rambunctious sort, ain’t he?
It’s been 3 years since Quentin Tarantino left us with the historical re-do Inglourious Basterds, a tale of revenge so adventurous, riveting, and wildly entertaining that it could very well be the most re-watchable feature in his oeuvre, and is right up there with Pulp Fiction as his finest. Perhaps this was his intention: leave his audience with a lighter (though still quite dark) trip down cinema lane before heaping upon us the very dark, often grim, and sometimes downright unbearable Django Unchained, the story of newly freed slave who sets out to rescue his enslaved wife with the help of a Southern dentist-turned-bounty hunter.
That’s not to say Django Unchained isn’t good; in fact, quite the opposite, Tarantino’s latest is a damn fine piece of filmmaking that is very fun at times — much like many of the director’s other works. But the film’s subject matter and the way in which it is executed sometimes left me squirming in my seat, though that’s likely the point. You can’t make a film about slavery without diving into the hard truths of it all, no matter how much we don’t want to face those truths.
Django Unchained tells the story of recently-freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx), who is entertainingly purchased by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), an out-of-practice dentist who more recently has taken to bounty hunting, serving as an officer of the law who scours the South for wanted criminals, kills them, brings them to their place of warrant, and gets paid for his work. He abhors slavery, but buys Django to aid in tracking down and killing the Brittle brothers, three fugitives with bounties on their heads for murders they’ve committed, a gang of killers Django knows all too well. Per their agreement, once the brothers are killed, Dr. Schultz will make Django a free man.
Along the duo’s journey, Django tells Dr. Schultz about his still-enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a beautiful African-American belle whose previous masters were German, much like Dr. Schultz. Intrigued by Django’s story of loss and love — and the fact that Broomhilda is named after a classic German folktale — Dr. Schultz promises that, if Django acts as his associate in bounty hunting, he will help Django rescue Broomhilda once the winter passes. The two agree, and while Django is hesitant at first, he proves to be a natural and even enjoys his new line of work (“Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?”).
Their subsequent mission to rescue Broomhilda leads Django and Dr. Schultz to a meeting with Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), owner of the Candyland plantation. Dr. Schultz and Django devise a plan to rescue Broomhilda through the purchase of one of Candie’s prized Mandingo fighters (slaves who brawl each other to the death), but once their plan is foiled by Candie’s loyal servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), the duo must hatch a new scheme to bring Broomhilda home to safety.
Throughout the film there are loads of classic Tarantino touches, including massive blood spatters, stylish violence and killings, quick camera zooms and pans, tongue-in-cheek humor, cool moments of conversation, a killer soundtrack, and loads of pop culture quips and cameos. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is Quentin at his most Tarantino-esque, so you have to either love it or leave it. He certainly isn’t backing down from his trademark style.
It goes without saying that slavery is a poor mark on America’s scorecard, and Tarantino doesn’t shy away from that either. In Django Unchained, we see two slaves, Mandingo fighters to be exact, brawl to the death — one finishes off the other with a hammer — and yet another fed alive to a pack of dogs. If ever I’ve seen a film that disturbingly portrays our country’s previous stance of slaves as property, it is Django Unchained.
But while it is at times extremely difficult to watch, Django Unchained is also a magnificent film with fantastic acting from leads Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. While he certainly isn’t as flamboyant as his partner in criminal killing, Foxx’s straight man Django is the perfect complement to Waltz’s eccentric Schultz. And Jackson’s likable Stephen, too, is an excellent complement to his master, DiCaprio’s completely unlikable Candie. These four men are all allowed to run wild in Tarantino’s Southern world, but also know when to tug on the reins and lend some reality to their roles.
I would be remiss, too, if I didn’t mention Tarantino’s soundtrack choices here. With a blend of songs from various influential spaghetti westerns as well as a few original songs from the likes of John Legend and Rick Ross, the soundtrack for Django Unchained is as cool and eccentric as we’ve come to expect from Tarantino, and is very much worth whatever the asking price on iTunes or Amazon.
Though it can be hard to watch at times, Django Unchained is yet another excellent and wholly original entry into Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, and serves well as a companion piece to his other historical revenge fantasy Inglourious Basterds. Best believe, Django Unchained is as bold, bloody, and violent as any of Tarantino’s films before it, and while it may not always go down smooth, it is every bit as entertaining as any other 2012 film you will see.