Written by J.T. Johnson
Ever since “Jackie Brown”, director Quentin Tarantino has made several love letters to the films that he grew up watching. “Kill Bill” and “Inglorious Basterds” were unique takes on the Hong Kong and World War II films that inspired them. Now, “Django Unchained” is Tarantino’s take on the Spaghetti Western, namely 1966’s “Django” and 1975’s “Mandingo”.
The story follows Django (Jamie Foxx) after he is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who reveals that he is a bounty hunter. Schultz frees Django because he is looking for the Brittle brothers. Schultz does not know what the men look like but Django does. Django accepts Schultz’s offer to go after the Brittle brothers so that he can be a free man and go look for his lost wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
“Inglorious Basterds” was a good movie. Still, it felt like Tarantino had amped up his own tricks a little too much compared to his earlier films. Luckily, this film feels like a Western with Tarantino’s unique influence. This means that the film includes Tarantino’s clever dialogue, plenty of humor, and loads of over-the-top violence.
One of the appealing aspects of this film is that Tarantino does not shy away from using the terminology of the time. Yes, that means the film’s constant use of the n-word. Some people, such as director Spike Lee, have stated that this is disrespectful. In reality, to water down some of the language or the impact of slavery would have been the truly disrespectful thing to do. Gratefully, Tarantino does not fall into that trap.
Having mentioned the controversy surrounding the film, it’s now time to get back to talking about what truly makes the movie work. That would be the great performances ranging from the main characters played by Foxx and Waltz to the supporting cast. In fact, while Foxx channels the silent heroes once played by the likes of Clint Eastwood, it is the actors such as Waltz that make the film truly engaging.
Waltz brings the audience in as the honorable bounty hunter from Germany. Just like in “Inglorious Basterds”, Waltz gives a great performance that by itself is worth watching the film. Unlike “Basterds” though, it was good seeing him play the good guy this time around.
While most of the performances are great beyond the two main characters, Leonardo DiCaprio truly stands out as the villainous Calvin J. Candie. This is a truly despicable character that can actually be quite charming at times. Then again, true evil always knows how to disguise itself.
One thing that may seem odd about a film that focuses on slavery is the amount of humor found within. Every character has humorous moments, but it doesn’t take long to realize why. The characters that Foxx and Waltz are after are so absurd in their beliefs about slavery that one can’t help but laugh at the idiocy of it all.
Like in all of his previous scripts, Tarantino also fills the script with insanely good dialogue. Once again, the director proves that he can write engaging monologues in his sleep. This even includes Candie’s horrifyingly incorrect speech about how inferior a black man’s brain is to that of a white man’s brain.
Yes, there is controversy surrounding the subject matter in this film. The good news is that Tarantino doesn’t care. While adding his own over-the-top eccentricities to the story, he stays true to the time period. This is without a doubt the best Tarantino film to come around in a long time.