Recently I’ve been rereading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and a few months ago saw Lincoln. Huckleberry Finn provides a satirical, biting commentary on southern society and Lincoln tells how the great emancipator got the 13th Amendment passed. Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained is sort of a combination of the two, with much more violence, biting dialogue, and is stylized as a western. Both Lincoln and Django Unchained are great movies but in two different ways. Steven Spielberg’s film is a convincing, absorbing biopic about ending slavery whereas Tarantino’s approach is more off the walls. While both movies are aimed at two different audiences, both are successful and Django would be very high on by top 10 list.
Like Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is a history lesson gone wrong. The film starts in 1858, two years before the Civil War (at least according to the subtitles, it actually started in 1861), in Texas. Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave held by a few traders, is saved by a german bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who needs Django’s help in capturing the Brittle brothers, criminals who are wanted for murder. Schultz knows that Django can identify them and makes him his deputy. Soon after catching the brothers and many other criminals, Django and Waltz attempt to find Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who works as a house slave for a ruthless Mississippian plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Django Unchained‘s inspiration comes from the spaghetti westerns prevalent throughout the 60s and 70s (the title and protagonist’s name is based off Sergio Corbucci’s Django and its star Franco Nero makes a cameo in the film). Tarantino’s favorite film is, in fact, Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the most famous and best spaghetti western there is.
Tarantino riddles the film with many of his other trademarks. The movie has a fantastic soundtrack, ranging from some western style music to rap. The film also includes Tarantino regulars Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson. Waltz also starred in Basterds and Jackson plays Calvin’s head slave. The dialogue in the film is superb and written in the way only Tarantino could do. Who else could create a scene where a bunch of pre-KKK members rallying up a riot would complain about the holes in their masks? The violence in Django is actually pretty tame by Tarantino’s standards until the last thirty minutes of the film. I’m usually fine with violence but there were even a few scenes where I had to look away, including one where a run-away slave is being ripped up by a pair of hungry dogs. The movie features much profanity and the characters repeatedly shout out the n-word. Some critics including director Spike Lee have attacked Tarantino and declared that the movie is offensive. But I believe Tarantino does this to have a powerful effect on the audience. Tarantino doesn’t sugarcoat slavery but depicts it as grueling. The slaveowners aren’t depicted very prettily in the film, and the slaves are seen as the oppressed. If the movie wasn’t as violent or profane, it wouldn’t have been as controversial.
As with all Tarantino films, the acting is top notch, with the exception with Tarantino’s cameo. Jamie Foxx gives a great performance as Django, who reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name. Christoph Waltz is also fantastic as Schultz, providing both humor and action in the film. Samuel L. Jackson’s also great in the film and this is one of his best roles. The strongest performance in the film, however, is undoubtedly given by Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s really frightening and rather disturbing as Calvin Candie and he’s fantastic in the film. In one scene he has a giant outburst which feels completely real (he shatters a glass and I heard that he was actually bleeding, which has a powerful effect on the viewer).
Django Unchained is a very long movie, stretching to over two and a half hours (I heard the original cut past three), which is my only quibble of the film. It was not boring at any part of the film but I feel some scenes could have been trimmed. Make no mistake, Django Unchained is still a great movie and is marvelously entertaining. Tarantino has marked himself as one of the most consistent directors of all time and he does not disappoint here.