Django Unchained is exactly the bloody, hyper-progressive explosion you’re expecting
‘Django Unchained’ is Quentin Tarantino’s latest violent, race-baiting insanity, that’s both a lot of fun and also slightly too long.
If this movie was thirty minutes shorter, it might be the best of the year. If you don’t mind beheadings and touchy subjects, that is.
Director Quentin Tarantino is back to mix pastiche and homage with complicated topics and revenge fantasies in Django Unchained. This time, it’s a spaghetti western set against pre-Civil War Southern slavers, and the movie does not shy away from showing difficult and hard to watch aspects of slavery. Torture, inhumanity, racial epithets, and racism stretching from casual and unconscious to virulent and self-defeating. The movie is split in two, of different sorts of perspectives and styles. Bounty hunter from Germany (Christoph Waltz, going the heroic way this time) Dr. King Schultz is searching for for his bounty, two slavers — but is unable to find them. So he tracks down Django (Jamie Foxx), who had been owned by those slavers — and then Schultz makes a deal with Django. Django will help Schultz find his bounty, and in return will get his freedom and Schultz’s assistance in finding and rescuing Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The first movie in the movie is this journey of self-actualization, while Django discovers his potential and bonds with Schultz. This part is exciting and amusing, with dark jokes and snappy dialogue — and plenty of classic Tarantino stylized violence. Then the movie shifts.
It turns out that Broomhilda is now owned by plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, chewing the scenery with the best of them), and the two bounty hunters must infiltrate Candie’s home by posing as slave traders themselves. But naturally, Candie’s old head of house (and slave) Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) is suspicious. The second half of the movie is now about self-destruction, and how far one will push themselves to do something worthwhile. The two must commit dark deeds to achieve success, but this part gets a bit slow at times. After the rapid pace of the beginning, it takes a little while to get back to the good stuff — but it comes, with tense scenes where you can’t predict what might happen next. Is this movie saying anything about racism other than it’s awful? Not really. Insidious and dangerous, filled with ignorance and delusion. It just makes it easier to see how it’s not always as simple as you might expect — people are often too afraid to rock the boat or affect change.
Christoph Waltz is excellent as he marches through the movie with a smile and complete confidence, lending depth to a character we know very little about. In contrast, Leonardo DiCaprio is overblown and out of control, while Jamie Foxx is the classic taciturn and silently unstoppable Old West hero. Of course, this also means for the vast majority of the movie we don’t get much from him, seeming more a cipher than a character. When the denouement finally arrives, you may feel mixed on whether or not you bought into it all. Was it a meaningful movie talking honestly about racism that just happened to kill a lot of people? Or was it merely an over-stylized revenge fantasy coincidentally about slavery?
I suppose it depends on whether or not you like Tarantino. I do, and I thought the movie was great.