Quentin Tarantino continues to astound as one of the most fearless filmmakers in Hollywood. His latest, Django Unchained, is the wildest cinematic ride of the year. Tarantino marries his love of seventies pulp B-movies and sixties spaghetti westerns into a bloody, twisted adventure. The plot is fairly conventional, not the serialized, non-linear set-up we're used to from earlier works like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. The convention ends there. Tarantino does not shy away from the raw brutality of his script. He embraces the gritty, sordid subject matter with a flourish and witty dialogue that has become a hallmark of his work. Django Unchained is not for everyone and surely many will find offensive. But if you want to be entertained like no other film in 2012, this is certainly the movie to see on Christmas day.
The story begins in 1858 with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter, searching for a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx). He's trying to collect the bounty on three criminal brothers who have become brutal plantation overseers. Django, en route to a slave auction, is the only man who knows what they look like. Schultz frees Django, to put it lightly, and enlists his aid to find his bounties. Schultz sees promise in Django. He decides to train him up and take him on as a partner. As the men search, they develop a unique bond. Django tells Schultz that he must find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Slaves were not allowed to be married. They attempted escape, but were caught and sold separately for their crime. Before long they find disturbing news. Broomhilda has been sold to the infamous Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio), one of the largest plantation owners in Mississippi. His plantation, called Candie Land, is the worst possible place for any slave to be. Candie engages in Mandingo fighting, where slaves fight to the death and are bet on as sport.
Django Unchained is insanely violent. It is dripped in a bloody, no holds barred realism. Tarantino shows the horror of slavery in all facets of life. That coupled with the film's gunplay amounts to scenes that may be difficult for some audiences to stomach. And that's just the beginning. The gruesome visuals are matched with the most profane dialogue in recent memory. Tarantino easily breaks any obscenity record with his use of the word n***er and f**k . That said, it's not what you say or do, but how you say or do it. This is exploitation filmmaking at it's finest. The carnage, sharp dialogue, these are all integral parts to the story. Django Unchained would have been a watered down soup if Tarantino had shied away from the ugly aspects of the story. This is a movie about slavery told in the context of a western. It's meant to be harsh. The genius of the film is that it's not only harsh. It's exceptionally well written and shot. Django Unchained takes many elements and puts it together brilliantly. I've complained all year about the intolerable length of films. Django unchained, running at one hundred and sixty five minutes, is spectacularly engrossing from the opening scene to the last.
Tarantino's casting is remarkable here. Every single character is well written and performed. There isn't a weak part in the entire film. Christoph Waltz is mesmerizing as the verbose and deadly Dr. King Schultz. Much like his Oscar winning role in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, he delivers his eloquent dialogue like a violin in a concerto. He's fantastic in this role. Leonardo Dicaprio is unrecognizable as the villainous Calvin Candie. I can only imagine how he must have relished playing him. Jamie Foxx, oddly enough, has the most reserved character as Django. He plays the lead with a quiet distinction. It fit's the part perfectly. Django starts of as a cowed slave, but grows into a lethal gunfighter. He begins in uneducated servitude, then becomes an enlightened thinker. He plays the mythic cowboy well here. I'm pretty sure that Will Smith would not have been able to play Django as well as Jamie Foxx. The biggest surprise is the part Samuel Jackson plays. They've done a great job hiding him in the trailers and advertising. I'll leave him for audiences to discover.
I am an unabashed fan of westerns. Django Unchained is a glorious western in the vein of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. Franco Nero, the original Django, has a wonderful cameo in the film. He's the Spanish gambler that Django introduces himself to in the parlor scene. Django Unchained is Tarantino's homage to the westerns he saw as a kid. He adds his own unique style with the slavery plot, but you have to love how much of the spaghetti western is brought back to life here. I doubt the salty language and violence will appeal to more traditional western fans, but it's great to see a Hollywood elite tip his hat to the old masters.
Django Unchained is another excellent work in Quentin Tarantino's distinguished catalog. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but will be a hit amongst his fans and audiences looking for a good romp at the movies this Christmas. It will be mightily offensive to the politically correct crowd, but they can take their highbrow sensibilities to Les Miserables. I'd rather grab a popcorn and soda, then strap myself in for another showing of Django. Make sure you stick around around after the credits, there's a hilarious teaser at the end.