Sitting down for a movie is a big ask for studios but when that movie is nearly 3 hours long and is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, that’s another thing. In that span of 165 minutes, Quentin Tarantino has our full undivided attention for the allotted time. He had our curiosity going into his 7th feature film titled Django Unchained and once the wheels of the dentist identified wagon start moving, he earns our attention. Coming off perhaps his best film to date in Inglourious Basterds, the director is on a roll, he’s hit a hot streak with two back-to-back epics in every sense of the over-used word.
One a revisionist historical film about World War 2 and the next a revisionist western. Both brilliant individually but when looked at with the filmography the two are top five from the talented director.
Taking place two short years prior to the Civil War in Texas, the film follows a German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who free’s a slave name Django (Jamie Foxx) to assist him in cashing in on a bounty. From there, the two form a partnership that quickly turns into an endearing friendship built on trust, respect, and loyalty. Django, the D is silent, now going by Django Freeman has a goal of his own – something worth more to him than any bounty, his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was separated during an auction.
Getting behind Django in his quest is the simplest ask out of all Tarantino protagonists. Mostly due in part by Jamie Foxx’s performance as the gunslinger. Foxx plays the role with curiosity, a fierce passion, honor, and loyalty. All these qualities that are given to Django make him a hero we didn’t know we needed. Understanding his strength, Django is an intimidating force of nature with the quickest draw in the country. Blink and you’ll miss the 6 rounds that explode in his enemies’ lifeless bodies.
We all may question the necessity of another revenge narrative, but I’ll say, why not? If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. Each revenge story created by Tarantino is stylistically different from his previous one and yet the story is never tiresome or a chore to get through. 165 minutes of Django Unchained comes off as 60 minutes. I could watch stories of Jamie Foxx as Django for hours, even days and never once get bored.
While one film introduces us to a super assassin hell bent on revenge for the massacre on her wedding day, another follows its heroes ridding the country of its most evil people, slavers. If they happen to have a bounty on their head, even better. To the victor goes the spoils. As grandiose of blowing up a group of supremacists by baiting them, the real victory is the dirty looks Django gets while riding a horse through town and the townspeople can’t do anything about it but stare with their mouths agape.
Django – 1, racists – 0.
While the narrative features prominent villains standing in Django and Dr. Shultz’s way, the main villain is the racism, discrimination, and prejudice of the time. One of the most inhumane acts that African Americans have experienced, and Tarantino spares no expense of violence against these evil doers. Sometimes logic and sound arguments are used mostly in the bounty hunting aspect and in others, a nice explosion is deemed necessary. But it’s how Tarantino blends the tones of absolute gravity of the times mixed with humor that works to Django’s advantage.
One moment of a black man in a royal blue suit whipping a bounty before shooting him in the head is juxtaposed to a supremacist group led by “Big Daddy” (Don Johnson) and his number two Jonah Hill in a surprising cameo role arguing over the bags being worn and the size of the eye holes. I, like many others would love to know if this was a topic of discussion back then. Its absolute lunacy but its brilliant writing once again by Tarantino.
Just like the director’s previous films the strength of the story is supplemented by the outstanding casting of the ensemble. Whether it’s Tarantino himself with an Aussie accent that sucker punches you out of nowhere or the main human villain of Monsieur Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) of the famous Candieland and his associates Leo (Dennis Christopher), Billy Crash (Walton Goggins) and his house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) commanding the screen with monologues and dirty jealousy fueled looks, the casting is stellar once again. Everyone plays their role with enough conviction to last the entirety of the Civil War but it’s the talented DiCaprio who stands out among the rest. Fully invested is DiCaprio that he bleeds for his portrayal of Candie after a hypnotizing and terrifying monologue.
But it’s Christoph Waltz once again that drives the story forward. Waltz is a true artist – able to play one of the most vile and vicious German antagonists during World War 2 to playing an alley against injustice and racism during a time of civil unrest. In his performance, Waltz never takes the spotlight away from Foxx. Tarantino shoots Foxx like a superhero and the poses from Foxx annunciate the statement the director is making.
I never once criticized the violence or profanity Tarantino uses in his films. Excessive, absolutely, there’s no denying it but each time an explicit word or phrase is used, its adding to the extension of the period we are witnessing. The violence used, though for pure shock value is put in places that make the most sense. However, watching a man get eaten alive by dogs does put the breed in bad standing. It’s a tough scene to swallow and even watch, nonetheless. Matter of fact, the entirety of this time is a hard pill to swallow since its relevance to society today has the same atmosphere. As an audience we know that an animal’s behavior is the extension of the owner.
In the sandbox that this revisionist western lives and breathes, Tarantino once again successfully creates an engrossing story that resembles a fully grown bull and we as the audience act as the china shop. Writing, direction, character, costume, the music is all crafted with the utmost detail from a perfectionist that makes it look easy and simple. The entire cast is brilliant with the powerhouse of Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz leading the way.
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, Michael Parks, Don Johnson
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5