Quentin Tarantino’s new film, “Django Unchained,” is unapologetically excellent. His critics can squawk all they want, and they will, but QT is shaping into a brilliant storyteller. His writing soars, his direction keeps the viewer riveted and the casting is flawless.
This is an exciting film–Tarantino-exciting! That means meaty characters, unexpected humor and stylized violence crafted into scenes so jarring they remain in the mental archive long after you leave the theater.
The slow burn, which unfolds in a particularly ferocious part of hell, is filled with characters so fantastically flawed and complex, it might supersede anything created by the ancient authors of the Greek legends. This film gets under your skin. However, slavery is a nasty piece of business, and the atrocities committed upon generations were considerably more grotesque than anything this wildly imaginative filmmaker could fathom.
“Django Unchained” loosely pays homage to the 1966 spaghetti western by director Sergio Corbucci. The film, titled “Django,” starred Franco Nero, who at the age of 71 returns for a brief cameo in Tarantino’s film.
Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who is being led across Texas in a chain gang, when the slave traders stumble across German immigrant Dr. King Schultz, played with eccentricity by Christoph Waltz. His unique wagon is affixed with a huge model of a molar, which is a great touch to understanding his inner character.
The silver-tongued Schultz wants to purchase Django, even though he despises slavery on principle. His proposal is not enthusiastically embraced by the slave traders. It’s here, in the snowy, sub-zero, deep, dark woods that Schultz’s true nature erupts, and–well, it is a Quentin Tarantino film–you can surmise how the chapter unfolds.
A principled bounty hunter, he promises Django freedom if he assists in the tracking and killing of three white slave overseers with a particularly gruesome history. In a twist of fate’s cruel irony and a nod to solid story structure, Django is intimately intertwined with the vicious outlaws.
These are the thugs who separated him from his bride, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and forced him to watch her get raped and whipped. To add more insult, they branded them both with an “R” on their cheeks, similar to a lasting teardrop.
Revenge, an inconceivable prospect mere seconds before, is real, and Django seizes the opportunity to change his life and find his love. Like a duck to water, Django and Schultz get on like a murderous house on fire, dropping bodies and collecting the hefty bounty rewards, amassing a small and moving fortune.
Bonding over blood and revenge, the relationship shifts when Shultz learns that Django’s wife was taught German by her owners and named after the heroine Brunnhilde (the name being misheard and pronounced “Broomhilda”). The fatherland connection makes him a more willing coconspirator.
In a turn of violent events, they finally find Broomhilda working as a “comfort girl” on the notorious plantation known as Candyland, which is owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Candyland is only fun for the privileged few and is run, in part, by the cunning and wicked house slave Stephen, played with unbridled elan by the venerable Samuel L. Jackson. His character’s influence is such that he’s established himself as “second in charge” in a monstrous system that is built on death and fear.
When Django arrives riding a horse, holding a gun and able to speak on his own behalf, Stephen is almost paralyzed with seething rage. Hate is a soft term to describe the combustible exchange and lethal sparks that surround Django and Stephen.
On performance, Foxx holds his own, going toe-to-toe with the near-flawless performance given by the artistically dexterous DiCaprio. His portrait of Calvin is over-the-top by careful design, and his fascination with Django is almost his undoing. The exaggerated mannerisms are not out of place in this warped world, where the masters pretend that they possess sophistication.
In terms of language, the N-word is bantered about like 114 times, which, in historical context, is sparse. How can you, in truth, craft a film about one of the ugliest chapters in the world’s history and not use that tainted verbiage?
Washington’s performance is luminous and her instrument in exceptional condition. Truly, she was born to her profession. Her simply lush performance assists Tarantino in creating an immediate emotional impact that, in my opinion, hasn’t been as evident in past films.
“Django Unchained” is a bold blaxploitation/spaghetti western/love story about American slavery with a revenge-seeking hero who is not afraid to get dirty to exact his measure of justice on those who seek to continue oppression and genocide.
Quentin Tarantino keeps delivering superlative work, thus adding even more to his cinematic legacy. This time, the hero is Black from head to toe, and that’s extremely fine in my opinion.