Like The Dark Knight Rises earlier this year, Django Unchained had me leaving the theater with the enormous satisfaction that can only come from fully realized anticipation. There’s something great that happens when you have extremely high hopes for a film and it actually delivers on your expectations, and that is exactly what Quentin Tarantino has done in his latest demographic revenge fantasy. After Christopher Nolan, Mr. Tarantino has been my favorite director ever since I saw Pulp Fiction over five years ago. While his earlier projects focused more on crime in modern society, the director seems to have taken a shine to the theme of revenge in films like Kill Bill Parts 1 & 2, Inglourious Basters and now Django Unchained. While Pulp Fiction remains my favorite of Tarantino’s works, Django Unchained is another super-violent, darkly humorous masterpiece that features some amazingly entertaining performances from its three leads.
After “purchasing” him from a pair of slave traders, ex-dentist and current bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) enlists the help of Django (Jamie Foxx) in helping him track down a trio of high value targets known as the Brittle Brothers. In exchange for his assistance, Schultz promises Django his freedom. Once the Brittle Brothers are taken care of however, Schultz learns of Django’s quest to rescue his enslaved wife, Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) and offers to help him free her as well if Django partners up with him for the winter. Once the snow melts and the two have had their share of legally killing white folks,
they track Broomhilde to a large plantation in Mississippi known as Candieland, owned by the opulent Francophile Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Posing as potential buyers of one of Candie’s prized Mandingo Fighters (the unfortunate Real American Gladiators), Django and Schultz join Candie on his plantation to discuss the deal and orchestrate Broomhilde’s release.
The acting is nothing short of spectacular nearly all around, but the three performances that stand out are those of Foxx, DiCaprio and Waltz. I was a bit hesitant about the casting of Jamie Foxx in the lead role when I first hear about it, seeing as his last decade have been filled with some pretty underwhelming films (Miami Vice, Stealth, Valentines Day) but I can honestly say that having seen the movie, I can’t imagine anyone else playing the part. Foxx plays the role with a great mix of cool self-assurance and underlying hatred of the people around him. He has some amazing chemistry with Waltz throughout the film, but I’d have to say that my favorite scenes of his were during his stay at Candieland as he is posing as a Black Slaver, requiring him to act superior and dismissive of his own people while trying to cover up the incredible rage he feels towards the people who have abused his wife.
DiCaprio is also spot on as Calvin Candie, who adores french things but doesn’t speak a word of French. DiCaprio manages to take his character’s position as a wealthy plantation owner and use his arrogance in substitute of craziness or outright evil. He comes across as a businessman who greatly dislikes being made a fool of rather than an outright villain, which reflects Tarantino’s overarching message that slavery is the true villain here, not Calvin Candie or any of his minions. In a supporting villain role we have the Samuel Jackson as Candie’s right hand man Stephen, a role which it feels like Mr. Jackson was born to play. Part court jester, part advisor, and part Black-Karl-Rove, Stephen often toes the line between over-the-top racial stereotype and hilariously self-parody. I’m curious to know how much of Jackson’s part was written for him and how much he improvised, I wouldn’t doubt that a great part of it was the latter though.
Last but certainly not least, we have Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz; my absolute favorite character of the entire film. While Waltz got the chance to be amazingly loath-able in Inglourious Basterds (which earned him a best supporting actor Oscar), Tarantino gives him the same quietly dangerous politeness here in the role of the good guy rather than the bad. Dr. Schultz is wonderfully calm and cool-headed during even the most violent and suspenseful scenes of the film, summed up none better by his repeated surrender and the “You Can’t Touch This” revelation of his position as a Bounty Hunter. His German accent and nationality fit surprisingly well into the context, lending him a fervent disgust with the idea of slavery but the practical recognition of how it must be respected given his current surroundings. In any case, I’d be incredibly surprised if he didn’t snag another Supporting Actor Nomination if not win for the role.
Why I Love Tarantino:
Most mainstream movies follow a fairly predictable formula that limits the amount of suspense or anxiety any sort of conflict can invoke in viewers because of the fact that about 99% of the time, you can count on at least one of the main characters to survive till the end of the movie. That other 1% is where Mr. Tarantino comes in. Like author George R. R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame, Tarantino pulls no punches when it comes to killing off established main characters at very unexpected times, and because of that you are left not having any idea which of your favorite characters might kick the bucket at any minute. This extra level of mortality added to every character makes you even more engrossed in what might happen to them, and it’s the reason so many of Tarantino’s quietest scenes are often the most exciting. It’s as if other directors have their characters holding brightly colored sparklers which make a lot of pretty lights and colors without ever really threatening the characters’ well being. With Tarantino, however, it’s as if he’s given one or two characters a grenade with no indication of who holds them or when they will blow. No matter how quiet things get, you still know that things are all going to explode at some point.
– My absolute favorite scene is the Uber-Tarantino bickering of a lynch mob about the quality of their masks’ eye holes prior to their assault on the protagonists’ camp
– The Soundtrack is nothing short of amazing, start to finish; Kill Bill level of Amazing
– Violence and camera work is fun and over dramatic; expect the usual level of gore
– James Remar (Dexter Dad) play’s two separate characters; the reason for this is hinted at but never explained
– Amber Tamblyn and her father Russ make a very strange and similarly unexplained cameo appearance that makes very little sense once everything is said and done
The Verdict: 9.0/10 Incredible
+ Amazing acting by Foxx, DiCaprio and especially Waltz
+ Tarantino’s style and writing are as sharp as ever
+ Long run time not nearly as noticeable as other equally long movie’s I’ve seen recently
+ Some great, darkly satisfying vigilante fun throughout
Cinematic Katzenjammer: 9.6/10
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 9.5/10
Devil’s Advocates: 4.5/5
The Bishop Review: 4.5/5
Fast Films Review: 3.5/5