Review: Django Unchained
PLOT: In the pre-Civil War Deep South, a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) is rescued from captivity by a bounty-hunter- Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz offers him a deal- that Django helps him in his bounty-hunting duties throughout the winter, and then- once spring comes, heíll in turn help Django travel to Mississippi, where the two will attempt to rescue Djangoís slave wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of slaver Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
REVIEW: The way I approach a Quentin Tarantino movie is different from how I approach any other film. Having been of the generation of young film fanatics to have been inspired by his classics- RESERVOIR DOGS, PULP FICTION, and KILL BILL, I relish not only watching his movies, but also reading his scripts. I read INGLORIOUS BASTERDS the moment it leaked, and I did the same with DJANGO UNCHAINED. On the page- DJANGO was a blast, but on the big screen itís even more than that. Itís the work of one of our greatest filmmakers, at the very top of his game.
QTís been working his way towards making a Western for years, and now that heís finally made it, itís a western the likes of which youíve never seen. While it has elements of the spaghetti westerns Tarantinoís on record as adoring, itís also not some mere collage of influences. By incorporating a very real, very dark piece of American history to his spaghetti homage, heís gone and made one of his most powerful movies. Incendiary? Hell yes- and proud of it.
Tarantino pulls no punches in his depiction of slavery. Granted, some of his southern plantation owners may be portrayed in a satirical way, with Don Johnson being side splittingly funny as a Col. Sanders style slaver, their evil is never glossed over. We see them order vicious beatings, and killings- all of which are shown in agonizing detail. A Mandingo (fighting slaves) brawl is particularly gruesome- and somber.
However, this isnít exactly AMISTAD, and Tarantino invites us to enjoy the brutal comeuppance of the filmís menagerie of villains. And damn, is DJANGO UNCHAINED ever a fun ride- and one that despite itís close to three-hour length, you wonít want to end.
As the titular character, Jamie Foxx seems instantly iconic, and itís impossible to think of anyone else in the part. He brings the righteous rage, and underlying vulnerability to his part that Uma Thurman did in KILL BILL. A flashback where he tearfully begs an overseer not to whip his wife is especially powerful, and once heís in cowboy-mode, Foxx really does seem like the kind of hero a director like Sergio Leone would have been happy to have in their movies. DJANGO is Foxxís Man with No Name, and he plays it to the hilt.
But- Christoph Waltz, as Schultz is just as brilliant in his own right. The role is similar to his part in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, with main difference being that while Hans Landa was evil incarnate, Schultz, despite his murderous trade, is easily the most compassionate guy in the movie. At this point, Waltz is like Tarantinoís own Klaus Kinski, and as an audience member, I literally hung on his every word, and cheered whenever his did something cool. Being a Tarantino movie- I cheered a lot.
In a huge departure, we also get Leonardo DiCaprio as the vicious Calvin J.Candy. DiCaprio seems to delight in his new-venality, and chews the scenery mercilessly. Certainly, DiCaprioís never played a character like this before, but heís going to scare the piss out of a lot of folks- while at the same time, amusing them with the absolute relish his character takes in being evil. DiCaprio, with his goatee, looks like a southern dandy version of the devil- and thatís exactly how he plays him. Heís so good.
And Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen- where do I even start? Heís Candyís vicious head-slave, who delights Candy with his sass, while simultaneously cutting down anyone he thinks is a threat to his position. In a way, Michael can be seen as something of a victim, in that heís Candyís slave, but Jacksonís Stephen is someone youíd never ever feel sorry for. Heís like a satanic Uncle Remus- and to me; this seems to be right up there with PULP FICTION as one of Jacksonís all-time best parts.
By now, youíre probably thinking, gee Chris- is there anyone in DJANGO UNCHAINED whoís not absolutely amazing? Itís a tribute to Tarantinoís genius at casting that thereís not a single character here that ever seems like they could have been played by anyone other than the person who ends up playing them. Cameos abound, including Franco Nero, Walton Goggins, M.C Gainey, Jonah Hill, and more.
Like the cast, everything else about DJANGO UNCHAINED is pitch perfect, from the epic location photography by Robert Richardson, to the perfectly compiled soundtrack, where vintage Ennio Morricone tracks blend seamlessly with new songs by Rick Ross and John Legend. Itís a grandiose soundtrack, but surely nothing else would do. While INGLORIOUS BASTERDS may have been a little short on carnage up until the ending, its furious here- with a climatic gunfight poised to go down as the bloodiest in screen history. Sam Peckinpah and John Woo would be proud.
I guess this hasnít really been much of a review, as all Iíve done is tell you all how utterly amazing DJANGO UNCHAINED is. Try as I might, itís hard to find fault with anything here, as it really is Tarantino at his very best. It seems amazing to me that 2012 could bring us yet another genuinely great piece of mass entertainment. DJANGO UNCHAINED is my third 10/10 this year. Itís spectacular.