- Directed and Written by Quentin Tarantino
- December 11, 2012 (Ziegfeld Theatre) / December 25, 2012 (United States)
With the help of a dentist turned bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to free his wife from a sadistic plantation owner.
Wow! A Quentin Tarantino movie I actually liked and will probably watch again. It was actually entertaining for me. Aside from Pulp Fiction when I was younger, I have never been really impressed by his films. There is entertainment value in them, but they are not amazing and nothing I would watch again. For me they get old fast. Even the sheen of Pulp Fiction is no longer present.
Django Unchained is a Revisionist Western effectively styled like a Spaghetti Western. Sergio Leone would be proud. From the music to the directing to the cinematography, it fits right in. The film was marketed as a semi sequel to a Spaghetti Western called Django with that film’s star Franco Nero having a cameo but in reality it is an homage to that and several other movies.
Jamie Foxx stars as the title character Django Freeman who is a slave desperate to find his wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) who was sold off and from whom he was separated. We first encounter Django when he is among a group of shackled slaves being driven by Ace and Dicky Speck (James Remar and James Russo respectively). It is there that we meet dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).
Schultz and Django enter into a partnership for Schultz to bring to justice the Brittle brothers who worked for Django’s previous owner. Meeting with success and Schultz feeling responsible for Django, they continue working together until spring when they will track her down and free Broomhilda. The action then moves from West Texas to Mississippi.
The movie itself feels like two separate stories merged into one. There is the portion concerning the reason that Django was obtained from Ace and Dicky. Then there is the portion where Django and King Schultz are going to free Django’s wife. Despite this being two merged into one, Tarantino makes them being connected feel seamless. One narrative easily hands off to another.
I do draw issue with the scene towards the beginning of the film when the town folk go into a kerfuffle when they see Django on the horse. In Western movies it was not a rarity for a black man to be on a horse. In the real West where this scene occurs it was not a rarity for a black man to be on a horse. I would have been less taken out of the narrative if the people had reacted with surprise and gotten law enforcement. They acted like they had seen a creature rise up from the depths of Hell instead. The citizens fleeing in terror was seriously over the top.
And there is the ridiculous use of blood squibs. Blood squibs are necessary but the amount of splatter Tarantino goes for is something that a child might enjoy. It’s the level of gore that made the original RoboCop so entertaining for my 13-year-old behind. Tarantino is a fan of excessive gore, and it is his go to visual.
Things become really interesting when our main characters find Broomhilda at Candyland, a plantation run by the charming and dangerous Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his manipulative house slave Stephen Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). There is a distinct sense of danger beneath everything he says and does. Despite his obvious racism, he treats Stephen as almost an equal and there are points where he even seems to defer to his slave.
In a surprisingly good performance we have Don Johnson in the opening as Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett who is the owner of the first plantation seen in the film. Tom Wopat, Walter Coggins, the great Bruce Dern, Jonah Hill, and Tom Savini all make appearances here of varying lengths.
Django Unchained was a good movie. I could nitpick on some style issues, but the dialogue was sharp and the characters were well done. The story was a steady pace from beginning to end and the finale, while extremely violent, worked very well.
The costuming was great. One of my multiple beefs with newer Westerns is that they tend to dress everyone in black or at best very dark browns. The West was not that monochromatic. And even if it was it helps in a visual medium if you mix up the colors a bit to differentiate characters. There was variation in the dress here so that characters could be told apart.
I can’t believe I’m doing this for a Quentin Tarantino movie, but I highly recommend that you watch Django Unchained. It’s an exciting and well-done movie. There are laughs and great action in a great story.