Django Unchained

Writer-director Quentin Tarantino has returned in a big way with “Django Unchained” his homage to spaghetti Westerns. The film stars Jamie Foxx as a slave named Django who is part of a convoy of slaves being transported through Texas two years before the start of the Civil War. Django is unaware that his life is about to take a monumental turn when his caravan encounters Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) one dark evening. Schultz wishes to purchase Django, and when his current owners make the mistake of threatening the good doctor, he quickly turns the table on them and sets Django and his fellow slaves free. Schultz reveals to Django that he is in fact a bounty hunter and needs him to help identify three potential targets. Since Django last lived at the plantation where the three targets worked as overseers, he is essential to Schultz’s hunt. Schultz offers to free Django and pay him $75.00 for his assistance and the duo set off on their mission.

Some truly action-packed and hysterical scenes later, Schultz realizes that Django is an absolute natural for the business and decides to take him on for the winter as an assistant, even going so far as to offer to share one third of his bounties with them. In return, Schultz also offers to help Django reclaim his wife who was sold to a plantation somewhere in Tennessee. Schultz rationalizes that to show up now would be extremely dangerous, therefore the duo must wait out the winter earning money before embarking on their rescue mission.

The hard work of the team pays off and they learn that Django’s wife has been sold to one of the largest plantations under the ownership of Calvin Candie (Leonardo di Caprio), a despotic plantation owner who is as greedy as he is cruel. Despite having more money than he could ever use, Calvin likes to force certain members of his slaves to fight to the death. Schultz and Django decide to use this angle as their chance to get close to Calvin so they can verify that Django’s wife is indeed at the plantation and determine what it will take to buy or obtain her freedom. This proves to be no easy task as not only is Calvin surrounded by an army hired guns, but he also has a very surly and suspicious head of a household named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), eyeing every move that the strangers make and questioning their actions.

What follows is a hyperkinetic storm of violence, fury, music, and color in the true Tarantino style. The director is never one to shy away from blood and violence and there are tons of it in the film. The amazing thing about it is despite being graphic and, in some cases, borderline gratuitous, it does not distract from the enjoyment of the film and its characters. The performances were absolutely amazing, especially the work of Waltz, Foxx, and diCaprio. Jackson also does very solid supporting work as does Don Johnson in his appearance as an uber-racist plantation owner. Waltz worked previously with Tarantino on “Inglorious Bastards”, and this is where the Austrian actor really gained notice by Hollywood. This time out he gives a captivating performance as the complex killer with a heart of gold.

While I understand Tarantino’s style is not for everybody, it’s hard not to be impressed with the way he is able to paint a picture, fill it with interesting and quirky characters, and quickly tear it all apart as things descend into utter chaos and destruction. You alternate between laughing, cheering, and being shocked all the way through the film’s nearly three-hour runtime. Yet rarely did the film ever seem to drag on unnecessarily. There was some loss of pacing as the characters converged on Calvin’s plantation, and some may question some of the character changes or gaps in logic in the film’s finale.

I believe this film is one of the best films of the year. It captured so much of what an action film and drama should have: interesting, complex and well-acted characters, a good story, and plenty of action. Those who are easily offended will want to take note that the language in the film is extremely rough and there is frequent uses of racials lurs, as well is derogatory comments made about the black characters in the film. While this is intended to show the mindset and lifestyle of the 1860s in which the film is set, some may find it unsettling if they go in unprepared.

That being said I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable Tarantino film I have ever seen and could be his best work to date.

4.5 stars out of 5