Review - Django Unchained

Django Unchained (2012), R, 165 minutes - There are a few followers of this blog that already know this, but for anyone new or just passing through, here it is: I enjoy westerns.  Unfortunately it is a rare genre in this day and age.  I have also become a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s work over the years.  So, as one could imagine, Django Unchained (the D is silent) is a film that I've been pretty excited about for a while now.  It snuck onto my ‘Most Anticipated Films of 2012’ list earlier this year as an honorable mention entry (it would have been much higher had there actually been an official trailer released at that point), and my excitement only grew throughout the year.

Django Unchained is a wonderful mash-up of a well made spaghetti western and Tarantino’s style of storytelling and violence.  It takes place two years before the Civil War and follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is purchased by a bounty hunter by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Schultz detests slavery, but, as he tells Django, he is determined to make the ‘system’ work for him temporarily.  He needs help tracking down the Brittle Brothers so that he can collect on their bounty but he doesn't know what they look like.  Django does.  He and Django enter into an agreement in which Django will help find the Brittle Brothers and collect the bounty.  Once that happens Django would receive a percentage of the bounty and his freedom.  As Schultz and Django get to know each other in their travels, Schultz learns that Django has been separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold at auction to a different buyer.  Schultz (being of German descent) feels a connection to Django’s situation and the story of Broomhilda from German lore and offers to help Django find her when their Brittle Brothers business has concluded.  That gets our story rolling and the rest is a very entertaining look at their journey, filled with a number of characters that you would only find in a Tarantino film.  Most notable are plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his slave/butler Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who are two of the most despicable and vulgar villains you will ever see.

Candie is the owner of a plantation known as ‘Candie Land’ and is a major player in the world of Mandingo fighting (a bare knuckle fight to the death between slaves in the name of sport).  He thinks nothing of having two slaves fight to the death for his amusement, or unleashing dogs on a slave who can’t make him any more money fighting, or putting a slave who tried to runaway in the ‘hot box’ (a metal box in the ground).  He also happens to be Broomhilda’s new owner, which leads to his meeting our heroes.  Oddly enough, as horrible as Candie is, he’s surpassed in his vileness by Stephen, who despite being a slave himself, holds a place of power in Candie Land (he has the ear of his master), and very much shares his master’s thoughts and views.

The cast of this film is excellent.  Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Django, his love of his wife, his dedication, and determination is heartfelt.  In a couple of brief moments he gives us a glimpse of his internal struggle over his actions in the name of rescuing Broomhilda.  For the second Tarantino directed film in a row, Cristoph Waltz plays a man who is absolute in his convictions (see Inglourious Basterds’ SS Officer Hans Landa).  The fun part is that this time around he’s on the good side morality.  Seeing him match wits against Leonardo DiCaprio’s Candie (who is every bit as vile as Landa was) is really entertaining.  Both DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson match Foxx’s and Waltz’s strong portrayals, and maybe even outdo them.  You get the sense at one point that Django and Schultz don’t have any hope left.  Candie and Stephen are completely over the top, but in a scary, believable way.  There are also fun small parts and cameos by Walton Coggins (Billy Crash), Don Johnson (Big Daddy), Jonah Hill (Bag Head #2), and Quentin Tarantino himself (LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. Employee).

It shouldn't surprise anyone that a film directed by Quentin Tarantino is going to be filled with language and violence, but even considering the time period in which it takes place and the context of the film, Django Unchained makes excessive use of a particular racial slur.  There are a couple of disturbing scenes, but other than that it is standard Tarantino-fare.  Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed Django Unchained and would highly recommend it to any Tarantino fan or anyone who felt that they could sit through the verbal barrage.  I may have been surprised by the excessive use of a particular word (as well as its use by certain characters), but Django Unchained lived up to all of my expectations.  It is every bit of what you would expect from a western directed by Quentin Tarantino and will definitely find a place in my movie library once it is released on blu-ray.

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