Set two years before the Civil War, “Django Unchained” is the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who has been separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) as they’re sold to different plantations thanks to their previous and vengeful owners. That is until a bounty hunter posing as a dentist named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees Django and not only offers him his freedom but retribution, a way to make some money, and offers to help find his wife as her German background intrigues Schultz. As Django and Schultz bond over the winter, they may have finally bitten off more than they can chew when their journey takes them to Candieland; a plantation owned by the bitter, short fused, and all around insane Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
As promising as “Django Unchained” seemed some restraint seemed to be in order. The “Kill Bill” films are personal favorites as “Vol. 2” was seen in theaters more than once and the theatrical version of “Grindhouse” was some of the most fun to be had in a movie theater in years. “Inglourious Basterds” was a bit of a letdown though. It lacked more instances of that over the top gore that has become one of Tarantino’s signatures. So the mindset going into “Django Unchained” involved the desire for it to contain more blood and more action than Tarantino’s effort from three years ago. Since it is the Christmas season, ask and ye shall receive.
The film begins with shots of Django chained to other slaves marching through the elements as the credits flash on screen in red text as Luis Bacalov’s “Django” serenades an otherwise dismal scene. One of the best shots involves the profile of Jamie Foxx in the left corner and the text of the credits on the right side of the screen complete with the image of Foxx blurring when the credits appear and coming into focus as they vanish. The soundtrack, as what’s come to be the standard for Tarantino films, is glorious. Bouncing back and forth between plucking guitars and melancholy strings and western songs from film, TV, and whatever else inspired Tarantino in the filmmaking process, the music is the final touch in establishing what is already a superb albeit somewhat skewed look into the south during this time period.
It takes very little time for gore to enter the picture. Blood ejects into the air like a dormant geyser that has suddenly awakened after an extended slumber. The splatter effect is an extremely welcome addition, especially since it’s always done on a blank surface whether it’s the hair of a white horse or the white walls and pillars of Candieland. Remember how the Queen of Hearts has playing cards painting white roses red in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Tarantino seems to paint white roses red throughout “Django Unchained.” The finale is where the liquid crimson really gushes and the appetite for violence is overstuffed to your utmost delight.
Tarantino always manages to put together an incredible cast and “Django” is just another feather in his cap. The most discussed addition to this film is Leonardo DiCaprio. Calvin Candie is a time bomb. Once he finally explodes, you’re already hooked on the character. He’s an enraged lunatic with a bitter and slimy quality to him that you can’t help but love and DiCaprio does a magnificent job. Some have pointed out that DiCaprio has done better work in the past and that may be true, but he’s never portrayed a ruthless villain of this caliber. Christoph Waltz is as enjoyable and as delightful as ever. Schultz kills people and collects corpses for money, which sounds like it could have a pretty negative affect on a man. But Schultz is always happy and charming. Reading his body language is like finding another spectacular performance within another. Samuel L. Jackson is an interesting addition as the sneaky and smart-mouthed Stephen. He’s a free man like Django who chooses to work for Candie and has a sneaking suspicion about Django right from the start. His constant complaining and smooth line delivery have a good portion of the comic relief resting solely on Jackson’s shoulders, which he carries with ease. Jamie Foxx portrays a man who is never swayed of his goals. He’s so determined and sometimes lets his desire for revenge get the best of him, but he truly comes to life in the second half of the film.
This may be the funniest Tarantino film to date. During the raid sequence, there’s this entire conversation of how the torch carrying mob can’t see through their white hoods that is just flat out hysterical. Django picking out his clothes for the first time will get a lot of laughs as will just about everything that comes out of Samuel L. Jackson’s mouth. But the humor is sprinkled onto this super violent and catastrophic adventure. With all of the whipping, branding, fights to the death, and being ripped apart by dogs, “Django Unchained” puts you on edge just as often as it makes you laugh uncontrollably. It’s similar to “Killer Joe” in that aspect, but not nearly as disturbing. The unflinching ripped apart by dogs sequence is horrific beauty.
Laughing this hard and this much during a Tarantino film has never felt so natural. While many may make the argument that this isn’t the best Tarantino effort, it’s certainly the most entertaining. Featuring a well-known cast that doesn’t disappoint, buckets of blood that will have you checking your shoes on the way out of the theater to make sure you didn’t step in any during the picture, and a final product that is just amusing as hell from beginning to end, “Django Unchained” is pure, nonstop, blood-soaked ecstasy that is satisfying in absolutely every way.