Set in the South two years before the Civil War, we meet Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittle’s; dead or alive. Success leads Schultz to free Django, but rather then go their separate ways the men become partners and Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with Django by his side. Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington); the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago. Their search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation where slaves are groomed to battle each other for sport. If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they must choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival in order to escape the trappings of this hellish plantation.
For this trip into the ‘Wild West’, Quentin Tarantino has fully embraced his popcorn filmmaking side in a surprisingly foul-mouthed and bloody ode to the genre of the western and it is some sly counter programming at the absolute highest of levels this holiday season. Tarantino has never been on top to the politically correct crowd and here he does so with gleeful abandon laying the inappropriate language and the blood and guts on display for all to see in one of his bravest efforts since Kill Bill Vol. 1. With a nearly three-hour run time, it is a testament to him as a storyteller as never for one second do things drag at any point. With moments of sheer beauty juxtaposed with ones that can only be described as deliciously wicked to the point that the viewer should feel deplorable, but we don’t because he marries it all together so spectacularly made. In many ways it’s the kind of American filmmaking that we haven’t seen since the early seventies where doing something wild was simply part of the game and with Django Unchained Tarantino has brought that bold feeling back to the forefront. As a filmmaker and storyteller, his marriage of shooting beautiful sweeping landscapes across the countryside with a delicious soundtrack along with four different performances that are simply inspired in their own special way make for a highly enjoyable and visceral cinematic experience.
As Django, Foxx successfully channels the seething rage of an oppressed man with the intelligence and ability to strike out at those who do him harm, and when his chance comes he takes it and runs with it. In a part that must have been written for him, Waltz as the bounty hunting Dr. Schultz brought real humor and a tangible morality to what it must have been for an outsider looking in at a pre Civil War America and was unquestionably fantastic. On the dark side of the morality tale, DiCaprio must have jumped at the chance to play slave owner Calvin Candie, rarely do we get so see an onscreen villain that is so deliciously evil, but Leo tore into the character with stellar results. The great Samuel L. Jackson also got to shine as Candie’s menacing, yet trusted, house slave, Stephen. He went from subservient to sinister at the flick of a switch and it was fascinating to watch.
It’s violent, bloody and filled with questionable language, but it is easily the most entertaining film that Tarantino has done in quite some time and deserves to be at least mentioned as one of the best of the year.
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Top image: A scene from Django Unchained. Courtesy Alliance Films.