By seeing the poster for Django Unchained, you can guess it has to do with slaves in the old west; but taking that information and considering who wrote and directed the film you’ll be itching to get into your seat already. It’s not all the necessary vulgarities, but the assumption that it will be another revenge film, much like Inglourious Basterds, where a race can achieve a feeling of vengeance from the seat of a movie theater. That assumption holds true, only at a much more satisfying level in Django. Tarantino creates a cherry bomb by using western-style violence and a hint of Blaxploitation in a very interesting way. This film is dangerous, courageous , and downright audacious… but tread carefully as you read on; I may drop some spoilers.
The movie gets right down to business when Dr. King Schults (Dr. King? A light nudge, I’m sure), played by the incredible Christoph Waltz, inquires upon two traveling slave traders looking for a specific purchase they may have made recently that goes by the name of Django (Jamie Foxx). When they refuse to do business, they are shot down from their horses by the quick-handed Doctor without an effort. He then eludes that he is a bounty hunter protected by the United States Government and he requires a bill of sale for the collection of Django. Dr. King explains later that he cares not for American Slave laws and only wants Django’s assistance locating the nefarious Brittle Brothers, who Django knows from his own tortured past. Wanting to earn the bounty on their heads for their collected crimes, Schults offers Django his freedom in exchange for his help in finding them. It is then made apparent that they simply work perfectly together, so Dr. King ups the ante by offering his own assistance in finding Django’s wife if he continues the partnership through what would inevitably be a prosperous winter. Becoming a free man does not hinder Django’s goals of freeing his beautiful wife, Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, so he agrees to the partnership. We are then catapulted into the exciting adventures of a German dentist turned bounty hunter and the aptly named Django Freeman.
With Inglourious Basterds being the feel good movie for the vengeful Jewish type, Quentin Tarantino could see the potential success in this new vindictive genre he helped pioneer. But this movie is deeply unlike any movie he has done before for several reasons. For one, the soundtrack was all over the place. A western with the likes of Anthony Hamilton, John Legend, and Rick Ross has probably never been made before, but I won’t call that a fact. There is even a remix with James Brown and Tupac. Regardless of how hilarious that particular choice of music worked out for that scene, it’s a strange feeling hearing that genre of music while watching gun-toting cowboys. I will say that I was giddy to hear the natural composition of Ennio Morricone in this film. The Italian composer has been incredibly versatile in his career doing nearly every film category there is, but he is most known for his work in Spaghetti Style Westerns like the Fistful of Dollars franchise by Sergio Leone.
On that subject, I overheard plenty of movie-goers referring to Django Unchained as a “Spaghetti Western” but I can’t really place it in that genre as Tarantino is an American film director; not Italian. The man is from Tennessee, for goodness sake. He’s more like his Australian Cowboy cameo in this film than he is an Italian Western Film Maker. With a category that is mostly named based on WHO is directing, I don’t really feel comfortable giving him credit for establishing roots in yet another variety through sheer naivety on the subject matter.
With Foxx and Waltz doing such fantastic renditions of their characters, the supporting cast would generally be lost in all the excitement, but that is a huge exception in this one. A pimped out Don Johnson as Big Daddy Bennett was almost too much for me to take the movie seriously, but thankfully the plantation owner and slave trader isn’t over used and is instead given the perfect amount of screen time. Jonah Hill had an amusing and humorous scene involving the early KKK and their struggles with their white hoods. Small appearances from James Remar, Dennis Christopher, and M.C. Gainey had my head darting all over the place. But one particular scene with Walton Goggins stopped me dead in my tracks. If you’ve made it this far into my review, I think it’s likely you will be seeing this flick. Knowing that, I feel it is my responsibility to warn all the potential viewers out there that you will experience a damn near 5 minute long scene of Goggins threatening a shackled, half tortured, fully naked, Django Freeman with his life…while harshly gripping his cock. As uncomfortable as that is to watch, it really proved to be a worthy tactic when trying to convey the serious shit storm Django has gotten himself into at that peculiar moment.
We received one hell of a staging from Leonardo DiCaprio as the eccentric Calvin Candie, owner of the disreputable plantation known as Candie Land; where we eventually find the anguished wife of Django, Broomhilda, being tormented in “The Hot Box.” The derisive casting of Samuel L. Jackson as ‘Mr. Stephen’ was very unsettling because the character is an ‘Uncle Tom’ at his core and this is a character type that is immensely hated by Africans even in the time frame in which this movie takes place. On several occasions, Quentin Tarantino has been called out by prominent African film makers and artists who believe he is a glutten for shock value in his movies with the over usage of the ‘N’ word. Spike Lee called him a racist but was defended by Jackson saying that Tarantino is a true artist and he only strives to portray the truth. By Sam L. taking an ‘Uncle Tom’ role, I feel he is basically giving the finger to anyone calling Tarantino a bigot. It’s just very quizzical that he could accept the role of such a loathed personality type knowing what kind of backlash it may bring.
All the incredible shout outs to history’s finest western actors made for a fun game of trivia. The Son of a Gunfighter himself, Russ Tamblyn, can be seen if you look hard enough. Although, the most surprising cameo was Franco Nero as a random bar patron. Nero starred as the leading title role in the 1966 film Django. The Sergio Corbucci directed story couldn’t be called the ‘original’ Unchained because the only real similarity between the two is the inclusion of the KKK faction, but Tarantino still though it would be a fun comprehension to nudge at the fans, and I absolutely agree.
I, quite honestly, believe this movie to be Quentin Tarantino’s best work by far. But I will say that I am not a colossal fan of his as I have many differing opinions on his famous works, such as Reservoir Dogs and Four Rooms. Furthermore, Tarantino’s own performance, albeit a very brief one, I mostly abhor and I can’t communicate enough how awful his acting is for being such a seasoned and well-rounded director. Fortunately for me, even though the movie ran for over two and a half hours, I still believe it to be one of the most stirring and riotous experiences in a movie theater I have ever had. For that, I will give Django Unchained 5 out of 5 Nerd Skulls.