Synopsis: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. (Source)
Only Quentin Tarantino could pull off a movie like Django Unchained. Picking up where he left off with Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino this time revisions history with a spaghetti western, focusing on the Antebellum south and featuring a story of merciless commodity through slavery as well as the two men who stoke the fires against it. It’s a brutal, oft times savage film with the director’s trademark flair and provocative wit intact, but with a maturity to match. Django is an explosive tale of hope through adversity and an incendiary marvel from script to execution.
What makes Django so different from the director’s previous outings is that here, his trademark vengeance trope is only a starting point for the film’s story rather than the focus of it. When a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) acquires a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to help him hunt down a trio of slavers, the two form an incredible bond, with Schultz treating Django as an equal and offering him freedom after a short amount of help. Django of course agrees, but this only turns out to be the first thirty minutes of the film before things get more personal and the two suddenly find themselves on the hunt, fulfilling a promise from Schultz to help Django find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and save her from a cruel plantation owner named Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
By and large, what makes the film an indisputable success is the way Tarantino knows exactly what his audience expects and how to toy with that expectation and give us more. Without watering down the things we love so much about his films, there’s also a distinct leap in maturity here which is a stark contrast from the director’s grindhouse beginnings. This isn’t just a film where everyone merely sounds or looks cool for the sake of it and it isn’t provocative without purpose or subtext. Though the film depicts an atrocious world of slavery and human disregard, it profoundly contains elements which are too similar to the world we inhabit today. Don’t get me wrong, while we don’t have overt, sanctioned human slavery or oppression due to skin color (which is arguable to some), there is still an incredible metaphor here for the way business is conducted and even enjoyed for the sake of greed and profit. As one of human history’s most despicable events, everyone knows and views slavery the way it’s depicted here but now Tarantino makes us feel the horror of it and relates it to the cold, unforgivable nature of business. Despite all that, the director fashions a film that we can easily relate to, showing a cathartic triumph throughout adversity, with one man caught in an unforgiving world, and how both sides of the coin, whether despicable or noble will do whatever they can to achieve their goals.
Now of course, this is a Tarantino film, and like any of his previous efforts, this one’s features an entire new set of colorful and unforgettable characters, all lead by a trio of Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. For all intents and purposes, this is Django’s story and Jamie Foxx is a complete knockout in the title role. His rise to power is completely believable and we care about him because there’s a humility that seems genuine and a rage that feels earned. He was the best solution for bringing this role to life, period. Christoph Waltz again brings his sophistication and unique cadence to voice some of Tarantino’s most eloquent dialogue yet. As Schultz, his compassion and non-judgmental attitude towards Django feel again, cathartic, and he’s really our entry point into Django’s unknowable suffering, playing first a bystander who abhors slavery until finally being forced into action when he encounters it first hand. Together, the pair are likely to become an iconic due with perfect chemistry, a balanced dynamic and a rhythm that can’t be faked. Heroes, however, are only as interesting as their villain, and that’s where Leonardo DiCaprio’s vile Francophile Calvin J. Candie comes in. Charismatic, yet savage and unrelenting, you’ve never seen DiCaprio like this before, and one of the film’s most terrifying scenes (thanks to Tarantino’s skill with prolonging extended dread) belongs to his monologue on slave mind phrenology, a pseudoscience which he uses to justify slaves’ inferiority.
Even with such a strong trio of leads, the backing cast is populated with a memorable ensemble that won’t easily be forgotten. Kerry Washington as Django’s german speaking wife Broomhilda is headstrong and in her short screen time manages to be more than just a victim. Don Johnson and Jonah Hill turn in one of the film’s most overt comic reliefs as the leaders of an inept lynch mob, and Samuel Jackson’s character has a poignant turn as Candie’s right hand, proving that hate can transcend skin color. All of this speaks to Tarantino’s detail oriented approach to storytelling and he knows exactly how to use each actor for the story, bringing out each of his actor’s strengths flawlessly as they deliver his signature, snappy dialogue, all interspersed between moments of real horror and brutally cartoonish violence.
Despite it’s heavy subject matter, Django Unchained is still a movie for movie lovers, and a crowd pleaser that will make it’s audience think and talk long after it’s over. While it doesn’t feel like the end-all Tarantino film, every skill the auteur director’s honed in his previous efforts is truly flourishing here and firing on all cylinders, leaving no doubt in my mind that he is one of America’s greatest modern directors. This is a film that isn’t afraid to look at our sordid past, and Tarantino uses the medium to show us that no matter how cruel or hopeless things can get, there’s always hope. Django shows off the power of film by knowing the importance of it’s subject matter and how to deliver it in an exciting and dynamic way, rife with numerous homages to the genre (Franco Nero, the original Django cameos), an incredible soundtrack featuring Ennio Morricone (as well as a few anachronistic selections), exhilarating action, and plenty of surprising laughs, all of which never feel tedious or pretentious throughout the lightning paced, three hour runtime. Saddle up and take this ride, you won’t regret it.
Crome Rating: 4.5/5