Writer/Director: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo diCaprio, Kerry Washington
Two slave trading brothers on horseback are leading a group of walking slaves. In the middle of cold night the run into a German dentist, Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz). Shultz inquires if they have a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), who was part of a specific plantation. They do. After establishing Django will be able to identify the Brittle Brothers, Shultz offers to purchase him from the slavers. The slaver brother initially refuse, but after a messy negotiation that results with one brother dead and the other with a broken leg the surviving brother agrees to the sale.
Django learns that Shultz is a bounty hunter, and agrees to his deal of freedom if he helps him find and kill the Brittle Brothers. Eventually they succeed in their mission and Shultz frees Django. After asking what he plans to do with his freedom, Shultz learns of Django’s wife, Brunhilda (Kerry Washington)–Hilde for short–and how they came to be separated and how Django wants to find & free her. Intrigued by her German name, Shultz learns she was named by Germans and can also speak German. Having formed a friendship with Django and fascinated by the prospect of being part of a real-life Sigrid & Brunhilda story, Shultz agrees to help Django. But before they start Shultz suggests they work together collecting bounties through the winter before searching for Hilde. Django agrees, and during that time Shultz teaches Django to read, shoot, etiquette, all the while amassing a large amount of money.
In Spring they head to Mississippi and discover Hilde had been purchased by Calvin Candie, and is on his plantation known as “Candi-Land”. Together they work on a plan to free Hilde that goes horribly wrong.
From the beginning there was something off with my viewing of Django Unchained. The high-definition quality of the landscape contrasted horribly with the retro-60s title card and credits; almost as if Tarantino, the director, was trying too hard. Whereas the Spaghetti Westerns Tarantino is trying so hard to emulate have expansive dirty sun-baked settings, Django‘s are small clean and crisp. You are never in awe of what you are seeing.
As for the violence on display, it is not for everyone–myself included. Tarantino in interviews has stated no other medium demonstrates violence as well as film, and he loves to show with relish. There were a number of scenes where I did look away because it was more than I could bear. But that being said, is that level of graphic violence required for the story being told? My answer is yes. In the end this is a film about slavery and man’s inhumanity to man. And the reality is these things did happen.
Tarantino, the writer, is on his A-game. The writing is smart and modern:
Shultz – “How do you like the bounty-hunting business? ”
Django – “Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like? ”
Though the use of the word nigger is excessive by modern standards, being this is a movie about slavery it is appropriate–with one exception. Its use in the extra scene after the credits seemed superfluous. It reminded me of the criticism directed at Tarantino during Pulp Fiction–that he made the character of Bonnie black in order for him to get away with using the word nigger. After the extra scene I felt Tarantino felt he could get away using the word nigger there because he made a movie about slavery and it was OK to use the word. For that scene, I just didn’t get the joke.
The acting across the board is superb, with the only weakness being Kerry Washington as Hilde. Jamie Foxx is stoic as Django. Christophe Waltz is charismatic as Shultz. And Leonardo diCaprio is a sadistic evil lech. But the unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson owns every scene he is in as the old house slave Stephen. Stephen at first is harmlessly humorous, but as the story progresses we learn he is Machiavellian, dangerous, unrepentant, and truly repugnant.
Django Unchained is not a film for everyone, and it is not a film for me. But there is no denying the intelligence of its script and greatness of its acting.
Grade = B+
PS Would Quentin Tarantino the director please stop hiring Quentin Tarantino the actor. Put simply, he sucks.