Quentin Tarantino seems to be tired of the present, instead opting to go back to different points in our nation’s history and introduce them to gratuitous amounts of blood and the phrase “mother f*#$er,” first with Inglorious Basterds and now with Django Unchained. The shoot-em-up Western has its fair share of blood, but it is a little more tame with its violence than most of Tarantino’s films.
Taking place in two years before The Civil War, the film follows the former dentist and current bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz,) who buys and frees a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx.) Schultz enlists Django’s help to identify three former owners of his, men who have a bounty on their heads that Schultz wishes to collect. After collecting their first bounty, Django agrees to stay on with Schultz through the winter in return for Schutlz’s assistance in tracking down and freeing Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington.) They track down Broomhilda to a plantation known as “Candyland,” owned by Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio.) Their only problem is head house-slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) who is fervently loyal to Candie, and is suspicious of the freed slave Django from the start. Everything turns out fine though and no one is hurt, the end. Oh wait I forgot there is a bombastic shootout at the end of the film because A) this is a Western and B) this is a Quentin Tarantino film.
Before I get any deeper into Django Unchained, let me address the negative attention the film has been receiving. Sure, the film may be overzealous with the use of the N-word, but people must realize that they are seeing a film depicting the height of slavery in America, right? Would they have preferred a portrayal of happy slaves and benevolent masters? Slavery happened folks, it was ugly and disrespectful in both word and deed. I think that a film (fiction or non-fiction) that focuses on that part of our history is worthwhile if for no other reason than that it gets people talking. You should be slightly offended by the film, because you should be offended by slavery in general.
Ok, I’m stepping down from the social commentary pulpit to my slightly shorter film critic pulpit. Every actor in Django Unchained puts forth a great performance. It’s nice to see the delightful Christoph Waltz in a heroic/non-Nazi role, as the actor’s precise and unique dialogue always makes me smile. DiCaprio also does a fine job with a role that isn’t 100% over-the-top villain, highlighting his more subtle talents. The amiable Jamie Foxx rises to the occasion of playing the gallivanting hero – because what character would be a better tough guy than a man who has spent his entire life in chains? Django Unchained is best summed up by its soundtrack: enjoyable yet inconsistent. The film contains both original songs as well as a mix of folk, gospel and hip/hop. A strange blend of music for a film that could benefit from a little more cohesion. Tarantino doesn’t generally follow traditional story structure, which leads to what feels like multiple ending points for the film. For Django Unchained, I will quote the great(?) Ryan Clark in saying “Good, not great,” while adding that it’s still worth a viewing.
Final Grade: ★★★½ 3.5/5