Western dramas are often more known for their violent stunts and elaborate special effects than there character and plot development. But ‘Django Unchained,’ the new Western drama from Quentin Tarantino, who first began imagining the title character over 10 years ago, brilliantly balanced the historical importance of his need for revenge with an honest depiction of slavery before the Civil War. From well-cast characters with extremely differing motives to brilliant, diverse locations, ‘Django Unchained,’ which is set to open in New York theaters on Christmas day, is an intriguing look at a morally wrong period in American history.
‘Django Unchained,’ which is set two years before the Civil War, follows the title character (Jamie Foxx), a slave whose brutal history with his former owners leads him face-to-face with Berman-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schult (Christoph Waltz). The former dentist is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django to help him find the Brittle brothers, and promises to grant him his freedom upon the capture of his bounty.
After finding the Brittle brothers, Schultz frees Django, but the two men decide to stay together, and seek out the South’s most wanted criminals. Using his hunting skills, Django remains focused on finding and rescuing his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who were separated long ago by the slave trade. Django and Schultz’s search leads them to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of Candyland, an infamous plantation in Mississippi. The two bounty hunters enter the plantation under false pretenses, arousing the suspicion of Candie’s trusted house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Their moves are marked, and in order to escape with Broomhilda, Django and Schultz must choose between independence and solidarity, and sacrifice and survival.
Tarantino rightfully chronicled Django’s struggles to acquire his and his wife’s freedom in the form of a dramatic Western. The genre’s masterful depictions of good and evil emotionally chronicled Django’s tireless struggle to infiltrate Candyland, a notorious Southern plantation that thrives on slavery, in order to save his wife. Combining the pain and suffering slaves endured during the time before the Civil War, as seen through Django’s point-of-view, and the violence and need for revenge regularly featured in Westerns, created genuine motivations for the former to risk his life to save his wife.
The Academy Award-winning filmmaker effortlessly and honestly cast Foxx, Waltz and DiCaprio in the three lead roles of the Western drama. As the title character, the Oscar winner for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles in ‘Ray’ passionately responded to Tarantino’s honest portrayal of the brutality of slavery. Not only did Foxx courageously show how a former slave would naturally act antagonistic and hostile to the white slave owners who looked down on him, but also reversely show his love towards Broomhilda.
While it was taboo for slaves to marry at the time, Foxx portrayed Django as not being afraid of the violence that might be bestowed upon him while trying to rescue his wife. Though jaded by his appalling experiences as a slave, Django is still able to believe in the love for his wife. He can also hold onto the belief that people do possess the ability for goodness, as shown through Schultz’s merciful rescue and willingness to grant him his freedom.
Waltz’s casting as Schultz was the perfect complement to Foxx’s portrayal of Django in the film. The supporting actor, who won an Academy Award for his role of Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s last effort, 2009’s ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ collaborated with the filmmaker during much of the creative process and the development of the script. Since Tarantino allowed Waltz to read the screenplay for ‘Django Unchained’ during the writing process, the actor was able to embrace and appreciate the fact that Schultz viewed Django as his equal. While Schultz has learned to embrace the lifestyle of a bounty hunter, and doesn’t think twice about killing men who have committed heinous crimes, he also values the positive attributes of everyone, regardless of their race.
DiCaprio’s portrayal of Calvin was the most surprising casting of ‘Django Unchained,’ in part because Tarantino was originally interested in hiring an older actor for the role. But the actor’s commitment to the character naturally balanced Calvin’s charismatic charm and his vile nature of wanting to run people’s lives, particularly his slaves. Since he has so much power and money from his cotton plantation, DiCaprio plays Calvin as though he feels he’s entitled to do whatever he wants, and doesn’t appreciate when Schultz, and particularly Django and Broomhilda, try to deceive him.
Besides Tarantino’s admirable casting of the lead roles in ‘Django Unchained,’ the multiple, diverse real locations he used also stunningly showcased the pain and suffering of the American slaves during the mid-1800s. With the authentic feeling of Western towns showcased in the scenes filmed in California, including Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita and Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, the director realistically filmed elaborate, well-prepared stunt sequences, chronicling how Schultz and Django bravely killed the wanted men with bounties on their lives. The Western towns deeply contrasted the beautiful mountains in Jackson, Wyoming, where the director shot the mountain sequences where the two characters continued bounty hunting during the winter. From the rivers to the snow-covered hills to the diverse animals, the mountains reflected the grand scope Schultz and Django would go through in order to seek justice.
Tarantino fully embraced the Southern lifestyle by shooting the sequences at Candyland at the Evergreen Plantation, an hour outside of, and the Second Line Studio, in the city of, New Orleans. The plantation breathlessly showcased the extensive nature of Calvin’s wealth and power in the cotton industry, but didn’t reflect his true foreboding nature. Candyland’s interior scenes were filmed at Second Line Studio, and more accurately showcased Calvin’s menacing ways, from the varying shades of red integrated into his furniture designs, showing how his personality can be compared to the devil.
From the excellent casting choices to the morally questionably acts and depictions of good and evil to the stunning shooting locations, ‘Django Unchained’ is a spectacular reflection on the morals and motivations of men seeking power and freedom. Not only do Foxx, Waltz and DiCaprio portray their respective characters with varying emotions and outlooks on life, but the locations the filmmaker featured also showed the different outlooks America had on slavery. The film’s overall honest depiction of slavery before the Civil War showcased the best and worst of people’s nature and beliefs in American history.