Django Unchained directed and written by Quentin Tarantino (The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures, and Brown 26 Productions, R, 165 minutes)
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson.
Don’t we all have the desire to rewrite history? To take back something said? Something done? Something that hurt others? What steps would you tack to right the wrongs either personally or globally?
With Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino certainly enjoys using the medium of film to fulfill these grand retribution schemes, but I contend that his stylistic tendencies will keep this film from winning Best Picture.
The film’s eponymous character, Django (Jamie Foxx,) is a bounty hunter. He earned his freedom working with fellow bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), to eradicate the Texas countryside of evil men.
As a former slave, Django takes great joy in legally slaughtering white people, especially those associated with the slave trade.
Having spent a winter collecting bounties, the two grow close. Schultz learns of Django’s unfortunate circumstance—during Django’s time in slavery, his owner separated Django and his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), selling them independently at auction.
Going to Candyland
Returning to Mississippi to review the slave transaction records, Django and Schultz discover that Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) acquired Broomhilda. Candie holds an opprobrious reputation as one of the wealthiest plantation owners in Mississippi. The plantation, “Candyland,” is the setting for “Mandingo fighting,” a competition where trained male slaves fight to the death.
Understanding the difficulty of extracting Broomhilda from such a treacherous scenario, the pair devises a plan of action that hurls them into the center of Candyland.
In Consideration of the Tarantino Brand
I thoroughly enjoyed Django Unchained, but this film fits 100% within the Tarantino brand. If you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, or Inglourious Basterds, you should know exactly what to expect—Tarantino meanders little from his modus operandi.
First and most obviously, Django Unchained is bloody to comedic proportions. People die, everywhere and in over-the-top ways. True to the Tarantino form, the violence feels unreal, animated almost to the point of Monty Python “Black Knight” levels.
Secondly, Tarantino’s writing offers much wit. In fact, there are points in the film where I laughed to a greater degree than any comedy I have seen this year. Tarantino balances brutal violence with light-hearted comedy quite well.
Of particular note, Christoph Waltz’s performance truly adds to this film. His character’s quick one-liners, confidence in sketchy situations, and an ability to out-talk his foes creates many mirthful scenarios.
Lastly, and most importantly for the review given my intro, Tarantino has a tendency to revise history like a manipulative deity. In Kill Bill, he utilized a powerful woman as the protagonist, killing misogynistic men by the dozen. With Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino imagined a world where Jewish soldiers single handedly destroy Nazi leadership.
And now through Django Unchained, Tarantino conjures a narrative where a former slave has the opportunity to wreak havoc in the Deep South.
Where On-Brand Means Off-Oscar
During this film, Tarantino’s brand is firing on all cylinders but at what point does a brand become a limitation? Countless articles have been written about Tarantino’s love of cinema and how his movies reflect that love. Django Unchained pays homage to Spaghetti Westerns and the “Blaxploitation” films of the ‘70s with a narrative twist where the exploited has the opportunity to inflict damage on his enemies. But at this point in Tarantino’s career, such a storyline is expected.
In the end, I doubt Django Unchained earns many Oscars. Tarantino’s screenplay might have the most promise for an award but I doubt the Academy will sway this direction given how true this movie sticks to Tarantino’s brand.
If you enjoy Quentin Tarantino or want to watch a darkly comedic movie, in the style of a Western or more accurately, a “Southern,” check out Django Unchained.
Verdict: 4 out of 5