In contrast to my recently reviewed “Allegiance” where the director was incredibly reserved with an incredible concept, Quentin Tarantino shows what happens when you put everything out there, throwing caution to the wind and even daring to spark controversy in the slavery payback film “Django Unchained”.
Set two years before the start of the civil war, “Django Unchained” opens with the title character and three other slaves being led through the woods in the dead of night. When German dentist King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) attempts to buy Django, the slaveowners refuse and a gunbattle results with them on the wrong end of the bullet (and you thought Shark Tank was cutthroat).
As the screams of the remaining slaveholder ring through the night, the well-mannered dentist reveals his true identity as bounty hunter. After showing Django up close the perks of the job, he offers to grant him his freedom if he helps him track down three fugitives operating on the plantation of a Colonel Sanders-esque Big Daddy (Don Johnson).
Django assists Schultz all too well, so much so that he’s overcome with Django’s quest (and amazing gunslinging skills) to rescue his recently sold wife, Broomhilda. The only catch is that she’s in the clutches of Calvin Candie (Leonardio DiCaprio), owner of the megaplantation, Candieland. Candie’s ruthlessness is only matched by his bad dental hygiene as our heroes eventually discover.
Tarantino skipped cinematic a la carte and went full-on buffet in “Django Unchanined”. Not that he was ever known for showing great restraint, but he definitely lets loose in this 165 minute epic. Easily mistaken as merely an homage to the spaghetti westerns of Leone (and blaxploitation films of roughly the same era), Django’s journey goes from the intentionally and unintentionally comedic to the romantic. It’s a buddy film as Schultz gains a growing respect for Django to the point that he remembers what’s worth sacrificing. Gunfights are brutal and deep fried in comedy in moments. Although the true brutality couldn’t be captured on screen, Tarantino is quick to show images that make it hard to watch…and that’s a good thing. From the lashes on our heroes back to the torture a slave faces for disappointing Candie, we’re always reminded that this is a period piece where the period had little to be proud of.
With a soundtrack that is bound to have something for everyone from those longing for more westerns and the riding music within to kids who would like to educate their parents on the melodic sound stylings of Rick Ross, there’s a lot unchained here and you get the feeling that Tarantino wouldn’t have it any other way.
DJango Unchained. MPAA Rated R for vicious fights, language, brief nudity and strong graphic violence. Running time: 165 minutes. In theaters nationwide.