Quentin Tarantino’s films—with their tragic heroes, tongue-in-cheek humor, and unrelenting violence—have always had an element of the classic spaghetti westerns in them, from the Okinawa-set “Kill Bill Volume 1” to World War II France in “Inglourious Basterds”. But now for the first time, Tarantino brings his unique style of filmmaking to a story that actually is a western of sorts: “Django Unchained”.
Set in 1858 in the South during the height of slavery, “Django Unchained” opens with dentist-turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) purchasing the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) because of his knowledge of one of Schultz’s bounties, the Brittle Brothers. But Schultz actually abhors slavery and takes a liking to Django, so after they get the Brittle Brothers he makes him a deal: if Django will be his deputy bounty hunter during the winter, in the spring he’ll take him to Greenville, Mississippi and help him track down his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold separately from Django some time ago.
It turns out that Broomhilda is a house slave on one of Mississippi’s largest plantations: Candyland, which is run by the sinister Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Schultz knows they won’t be able to just walk in, make an offer, and buy Broomhilda, however. They have to do something else to get Candie’s attention first, so Schultz decides they will pose as potential purchasers of slave fighters, with Django pretending to be a black slaver.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding “Django Unchained” on whether or not it is offensive, so much so that this talk is almost overshadowing the greatness of the film itself. While “Django Unchained” is far from historically accurate story-wise, its portrayal of slavery is likely very close to what happened in reality. That doesn’t mean it’s pleasant to watch, but at least Tarantino doesn’t shy away from reality and sugarcoat the subject. The film is about black empowerment more than any other movie in recent years, with Django taking charge of his fate over all the white people who tried to oppress him.
Tarantino’s story does have some flaws, mainly in the final act, which is unnecessarily prolonged. But for the most part it progresses in a very natural fashion, making us believe in Django and Schultz’s relationship and not questioning their elaborate scheme to rescue Broomhilda. It’s got its fair share of scary, violent scenes, but for the most part the gory violence is so over-the-top it’s almost laughable, and the film has plenty of the funny moments that Tarantino is so well known for, including a hilarious scene poking fun at the KKK. It’s that strange combination of humor and violence that makes this film, like Tarantino’s previous films, so unique.The story is carried by a fantastic cast of actors the best of which are Waltz and DiCaprio. Waltz, who won an Oscar for his role as a Nazi officer in Tarantino’s last film, “Inglourious Basterds”, takes on another quirky character for this movie and gives it all he’s got. Until we get to Candyland, Schultz outshines every other character in the film with his wit, intelligent dialogue, and wagon with a giant tooth on the top of it, making him the most endearing bounty hunter ever. Then we meet DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie. This is the first time DiCaprio has played an outright villain, and he does a superb job, managing to be charming and hospitable one second and frightening the next. The numerous monologues give him a chance to really shine, so any doubt anyone still has that the guy from “Titanic” isn’t a good dramatic actor better be gone from their brains for good. And when Schultz and Candie have scenes together—well, movies don’t often get much better than that. Samuel L. Jackson also makes a memorable appearance as Candie’s loyal but foul-mouthed slave Stephen.
“Django Unchained” also features that shot-on-real-film look and a fantastic soundtrack, all hallmarks of a Tarantino movie; this one even includes an original song by that great composer for the classic spaghetti westerns, Ennio Morricone. I don’t know if I would say that this is one of Tarantino’s best films though; his previous movies set the bar too high for that. Still, “Django Unchained” is an amazing adventure, a treat for Tarantino fans, western fans, and movie fans.
Runtime: 165 minutes. Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity.
Check out showtimes for this movie and more at the following St. Louis-area theaters:
- Wehrenberg Theatres
- AMC Theatres
- Regal Movie Theatres
- Galleria 6
- Chase Park Plaza
- Granite City
- Moolah Theatre
- Hi-Pointe Theatre
- St. Andrews Cinema
- Plaza Frontenac Cinema
- Tivoli Theatre
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