Bloody, Fun And Bloody Fun.
So let’s just clear this up right now. If you are not a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films you will most likely not be impressed by Django Unchained. Everything about this film is decidedly his. The unique soundtrack, camera zooms and Samuel L. Jackson saying the f word every 6.7 seconds are all expected and produced with the director’s own flare which he has perfected over a career that now spans 20 years. Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino’s most successful film both commercially and critically so how exactly would he follow it up? With a spaghetti western that was as fun to watch as I am sure it was for the actor’s to shoot.
Our tale begins with Christoph Waltz (who stole the show in Inglourious Basterds) playing Dr. King Schultz, a traveling dentist, who happens upon a group of slave traders and begins questioning the slaves about a group of men known as the Brittle Brothers. He then purchases Django in a very Tarantino style and he tells him that he is, in actuality, a bounty hunter who is on the trail of the Brittle Brothers and if Django will help him identify them he will free him and give him 75 dollars and a horse.
After this little adventure is when the movie’s main plot kicks in. Schultz sees that Django has a talent for the bounty hunting game and decides to train him. Django tells Schultz that he is searching for his wife, who was sold separate from him by their previous owner who was angry over the slaves marrying. Schultz has a soft heart for Django’s plight and agrees to track down his wife and help free her. They find out she has been sold to a large Mississippi plantation owner known as Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, complete with darkened teeth and rich southern drawl in his voice. Schultz and Django formulate a plan to disguise themselves as men who want to get into the “mandingo” slave fighting business and intend to purchase one of Candie’s fighters when they visit him at his plantation, aptly named “Candie Land”. They offer a ridiculous amount of money for a fighter in hopes that when they bring up purchasing Django’s wife, Candie will think nothing of it and sell her.
Unlike Inglourious Basterds or Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained could almost be considered a comedy. While you do have many moments of cringes from the horrors of slavery and the atrocities that were perpetrated on the African-Americans by their owners, when the movie is hitting its comedic notes I have not laughed more during a film this year. Watching Django in a mixed theater was a very good and maybe unexpected moment of clarity for me as a moviegoer that even when the subject matter is something as heavy as the bleakest moment of our nation’s history, we all can still laugh when there is a well delivered comedic line or sight gag.
Django is nowhere near as tense as Inglourious Basterds was but that is not a bad thing. Sure, there are your Tarantino scenes, like when Candie is examining a human skull, that give you those goosebumps like something messed up is about to happen but those are infrequent and it makes Django feel a bit on the lighter side of Taratino’s work but for the subject at hand (which is serious enough as it is) I am glad he went with a social comedic feel.
Jamie Foxx had a very straightforward role to play with Django. It is a role full of fire and vengeance that he plays with ease. Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie is an expert of knowing when to turn emotions on a dime. From hospitable plantation owner to bloodthirsty fight enthusiast and back to southern charm within a few frames. It seems like Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Samuel L. Jackson, who plays Candie’s elderly house runner Stephen, get to have the most fun inside of their roles. Waltz, who won and Academy Award for Inglourious Basterds, relishes in the role of the German bounty hunter who is not as hard at heart as we are made to believe. He is not so much ruthless killer as he is public servant of the weirdest variety. His delivery walks the perfect line between fish out of water and condescending foreigner. Jackson is easily the funniest performance in the movie. He has been born and bred to serve the Candie’s his whole life that he may believe he is the closest to white any black man can get in that society. So when he begins to argue with Candie in one hilarious scene about Django staying in a guest room, you can see that he thinks he is above normal slaves.
Tarantino fills out the minor roles of his cast with a mix of big names and faces that you wonder where they have been since the 80’s. Jonah Hill, Walton Goggins and even Tarantino himself have great side roles while the likes of Tom Wopat (Dukes of Hazzard FTW) and Don Johnson make appearances. Johnson’s role is especially funny and memorable as plantation owner Big Daddy.
Is Django Unchained Tarantino’s best movie? I wouldn’t say so, but it is certainly in the upper echelon. It is good to see that the director can go less tense and serious and more comedic while keeping true to his odd and graphically bloody style. It is like Blazing Saddles and Pulp Fiction had a lively, witty kid.
NERD RATING- 8.5/10