Review by J.T. Johnson
For my final entry into The Tarantino Reviews, I’m taking a look at one of my absolute favorites. “Django Unchained” blasted onto the screen in 2012. Despite having writer and director Quentin Tarantino’s flair for unique dialogue and over-the-top violence, it is also one of the most honest and unflinching looks at slavery.
The movie follows Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave that is freed by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in order to find a bounty. After realizing that Django wants to go retrieve his wife, the sympathetic Schultz decides to train Django as a bounty hunter and after the winter, Schultz will help Django find his beloved Broomhilda “Hildi” von Shaft. This puts them on a dangerous collision course with Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a vicious slave owner who is almost as cruel as Waltz’s Hans from “Inglourious Basterds”.
The movie contains several performances that should have won Academy Awards. Thankfully, Waltz once again did win for Best Supporting Actor and for good reason. This time, he got to play the good and honorable Schultz, a character that is a stark contrast to the villain he played in “Basterds”. However, beyond him, Foxx should have at least gotten a nod as Django.
It is through his eyes that we see the cruelty of slavery and what he had previously gone through. He’s also cool as hell, though, when he finally becomes a full-fledged bounty hunter. Django doesn’t necessarily want to kill people as much as he just wants to find his wife, but killing a few bad white dudes along the way is a perk of his new profession as a bounty hunter and he accepts it gladly.
Then there is DiCaprio as the terrible Calvin Candie. Like Hans Landa before, though, there is an unsettling amount of charm that comes with this wolf in sheep’s clothing. There are moments where you even find yourself laughing and enjoying his company, but then he talks about slaves and what he thinks of black people and you realize that this son of a bitch is pure evil. DiCaprio should have gotten his first Oscar for this role and the fact that he wasn’t even nominated is shameful.
The movie is a true Western, though Tarantino actually likes to refer to it as a “Southern” considering that it is set in the deep South. Tarantino takes his inspirations from Spaghetti Westerns and their more morally ambiguous view of the Old West, a ripe genre for Tarantino to tackle. Through his signature over-the-top violence, Tarantino reminds us that this is a far more cruel and violent time in our history.
In the end, Tarantino provides us with a solid revenge film that also happens to be a Spaghetti Western. The performances, the cinematography, the carefully crafted dialogue and the violence all come together to make one of Tarantino’s best films in addition to just being one of the best films ever made. If it weren’t for “Pulp Fiction”, I would say that this might just be the best film that Tarantino has ever made.