My experience with Quentin Tarantino films is pretty limited. Before this, the only one of his films that I had seen was Inglourious Basterds, which, I admit, I don’t remember much of because I was working on homework and such while watching. Despite that, my current quest to see all nine Best Picture nominees for the 85th Academy Awards brought me to Django Unchained, a film that I had meant to see quite a while ago but only just managed to watch. And wow…it was worth the wait.
At the start of the film, Django (Jamie Foxx) has just been separated from his wife Brumhilda (Kerry Washington) after the two of them tried to escape from the place where they were slaves together. He is being taken to a new place to work, but plans change when a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) shows up looking for Django, who he believes can identify three men who have prices on their heads. Dr. Schultz doesn’t like the idea of slavery, so his relationship with Django is as more of a partnership, with him treating his new friend as a person with the same rights as he does. The pair embarks on a journey to first find these men and then others before they travel to the plantation of one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is Django’s wife’s new owner, where they come up with an elaborate scheme to buy Brumhilda back from Candie so that her and Django can be reunited and free together.
For me, the best part of this film beyond a doubt is Christoph Waltz as Dr. Schultz. His dialogue is fantastic, his character is fascinating, and his overall onscreen likability is fervent. From the very moment in the film when he first appears, he takes control of the situation, managing to show both his aggressive and compassionate sides from the start. Throughout the film, he treats white and black people with the respect they all deserve as humans, which is hugely admirable amid so much racism and hatred. Foxx’s character is likable as well, with his obvious passion for his wife acting as his motivation for everything that he does or, in some cases, what he doesn’t do. In fact, there are several points in the movie when Django “sees” his wife with him, such as when he is bathing in a hot spring or while riding his horse to Candie’s plantation. This sort of hallucination seems to serve as a reminder that everything he is doing, whether it’s killing men for a bounty or ignoring the plight of the enslaved black men around him, is done with the purpose of reuniting him with his wife. As for DiCaprio’s character, I don’t have much to say about him aside from the fact that DiCaprio did a wonderful job with it.
The action in Django is visually incredible, though it’s certainly overly bloody and gory. Bullets often pass completely through the recipient’s body in order to maximize the amount of blood spewed everywhere, and, while it’s certainly gruesome, it’s also quite a spectacle to behold. However, I do have one concern; in the last half hour or so of the film, all of the action is done as a mechanism of revenge from Django’s hand, and it certainly seems to be a bit overglorified. Django is supposed to be our hero, a man who would do anything for his wife, but the eventual acquisition of his wife (you knew it would happen, so I feel no guilt regarding spoilers) doesn’t stop the constant flow of killing and violence. It would have been nice to see him do what had to be done and then leave somewhat peacefully, but, of course, that doesn’t finish with enough of a bang for Tarantino, so he goes instead for something a little bit more…explosive.
This concern, while certainly something to consider, does not overshadow everything else that is great about this film, though, which can be summed up in one word: “fun.” I had a great time watching this film throughout, minus a couple of scenes that were obviously not intended to be enjoyable, but that is another part of what makes it so good: it provides commentary on such important topics as slavery, racism, revenge, and love without losing its entertainment value. The movie lacks a traditional film score (as all Tarantino films do), but the music composed for and used in the film is excellent, and the style of the film is much in the feel of a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western…there is even a song written by composer Ennio Morricone, who composed the scores for Leone’s films. Overall, Django Unchained is a fine film with important social criticism, a well-executed script, and a talented cast of actors who make everything come together in an exceptional way.
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
MPAA: R – for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity