Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarintino
Django Unchained, in case you’ve been living with a box over your head for the past few months, is a movie about Django, a slave in Texas during 1858, who, once freed by the enigmatic bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz, goes on a revenge quest against the plantation owner, Calvin Candie, in order to save his wife. He becomes a bounty hunter himself and is forced into the awkward state of being a free black man in America’s pre-civil war south.
Now Django is a Tarantino revenge flick (a la Kill Bill) so you know that when there is violence its going to be fast and bloody and, well, violent. And that is certainly the case here. What Tarantino does with the violence in Django however is something special.
Now, for those who’ve seen it, in Kill Bill Vol.1 there is a huge set piece where, on the revenge quest, The Bride does a systematic slaughter of the 88 gang i.e. 88 gang members. There is violence and blood and its a fun gory mess. What Django does, is take that scene and do what he did with Inglorious Basterds and jack up the social context and meaning.
Imagine you were German and you went to see Inglorious Basterds and you will have a slight tinge of what it feels like to go see Django Unchained.
Now as a white American viewer (As most of your are I’m sure) its a very difficult feeling. The violence in the movie is not the hand holding kind you see in most action movies. You don’t just get to see bad people violently slaughtered, you get to see slaves whipped, beat, shot, killed, and tortured in ways that are never quite outside the realms of reality. In Kill Bill I remember scoffing at the 88 gang scene because they hyper stylized the blood gushes. While there is a similar use of blood in this movie not a single person watching this is going to scoff. It is not silly, it is violent, it is brutal, and somewhere in the back of your mind you know that this shit really happened.
And so when the “revenge” part of the revenge flick finally comes around, you get the slight feeling no matter how much blood he spills, Django is a walking saint, a man free of the usual realistic baggage that comes with committing violence. The white people will die and the white deserve to die.
Of course, besides just being a historical piece, Django Unchained harkens to the Spaghetti Western genre, and Django and Dr. Schultz are bonafide cowboys, riding on horses and using handguns, visiting bars, and dressed in boots. The whole style of it is perfect for the southern setting, time period, and of course the plot of what is occurring.
The actors all do a wonderful job bringing their characters to life. Jamie Foxx’s Django is a tough, unrelenting, intelligent, and willing to do anything to get back at the white man freedom fighter who is at once cunning and always on the edge of violence. Christoph Waltz’s turn as the german Dr. Schultz is an excellent mentor character, capturing both the ideals of white guilt (even if foreign to American Guilt) and slick bounty hunter. He always seems to be there to help Django when things turn dirty, and for most of the movie appears to be perfectly in control.
Without a doubt though, the two performers that will be remembered most is Leo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie and Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, Candie’s second-in-command (although in many ways, Calvin’s superior).
Leo is fierce. When it comes time for a big bad guy monologue, Leo leaves nothing unsaid, no action undone, and no energy unspent. Candie is a magnificent bastard who only demands respect and that his air of superiority is never broken. Jackson’s Stephen is by far the most easily hated character throughout the movie, here taking what must be compared to Uncle Ruckus from the Boondocks, a black man in support of white superiority, although its difficult to say whether he does this at the expense of his identity or in servitude of it.
But they’re the antagonists, so certainly, they have it easy.
In retrospect, Django Unchained is probably a bit long. At two hours and forty-five minutes, you begin wondering if it couldn’t have been trimmed fifteen or twenty minutes in various areas. The film begins running long near the last big set piece, but its difficult to ascertain how its climactic scene could’ve been done in any other way without dragging it out. While it seems a small blemish on the film, it is perhaps best to see the forest for the trees and not the few sticks that lay on the path.
As far as the question of where it ranks in the Tarantino hierarchy, I’d say this is perhaps below only three others: Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill Vol.2, and Inglorious Basterds.
At the end of the day, Django is a rare movie, and for all of its obvious Tarantino traits, it manages to be entirely unique, and a somewhat satisfaction in seeing someone directly, without the use of metaphors, kill those slave owning motherfuckers from our country’s racist ass history.
Certainly that’s better than Abraham Lincoln killing some damn vampires.
Final Score: 9/10