It’s time to finally place Quentin Tarantino as one of the great American filmmakers. After witnessing Django Unchained, it’s with certainty that he deserves to belong as not only has he created his own genre, but also a style and quality only Tarantino can reach.
I promise you, Django Unchained is a film you’ve never really seen before. Granted, no one really makes a movie about slavery. Anything that makes America look bad in the eyes of history is practically untouchable in the film industry. I can list out many amazing film ideas where America looks awful and terrible, but I’ll save that lesson for another article. But slavery, easily the most disgraceful and unfortunate period of this country’s short lifetime, is too difficult and too dark to depict for any writer/director. But obviously, Quentin Tarantino does it successfully with ease, as his natural comedic, violent and charming tones bring an entertaining equation to screen.
The film follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a once enslaved African-American in Texas, and a German dentist named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Following a “business transaction”, these two partner up in the bounty business, as Dr. Schultz needs Django to point out specific criminals, and in return, will help DJango find his estranged wife. After a cold winter of white people killing, they eventually get their eventful destination, Candie Land, owned by the ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Though the film is set during slavery, the film is primarily focused on the relationship between Django and Dr. Schultz, and their goal in finding and rescuing DJango’s wife, Broomhilda. Though we see the harshness and violent era of slavery, we aren’t left alone in this dark era without any escape. The journey that we take with Django is what reminds us that we aren’t in this adventure about escaping slavery, but about a man finding the love of his life, and what he must do to retrieve and rescue his wife.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t witness the extreme racism of which was the pro-slave South. When I watched this film the first time, I would say about 40-50% of the film made me uncomfortable and unsettling. No movie uses the N word more, and that kind of exploitation made this experience difficult. We are constantly thrown into troubling situations where the white male constantly disrespects and disowns African-Americans, and no film has ever dared to go this far.
And without question, Tarantino wanted it this way. I’m not going to lie, my opinions of the film were confused and discombobulated, wondering if Tarantino crossed the line and went too far (who knew I would get offended…). But after a second viewing and fully being aware of what to expect, it was obvious to me that this racist world needed to be spotlighted in full frontal. Besides showing the insane atmosphere our country was in during the 1800’s, it’s also necessary for our protagonist. When Django lashes out in revenge, we are completely satisfied. We have no remorse for the increasing body count, and we root for our hero to not just find his gal, but to also take vengeance to those who supported this heinous crime to human life.
This film is one big tight rope act. There are so many possibilities of doing wrong, from being offensive, being too serious or too light hearted. But if there’s one director that can succeed making a comedy through slavery, it’s Quentin Tarantino. He’s in complete control, and his style and quality of filmmaking is showcased through his quirky uses of music to the way the body responds to a gunshot wound (wow was there a lot of blood). What’s most impressive however with Tarantino is how aware he is with his characters.
He knows exactly who to cast, and it all starts with Django. Originally rumored to attach Will Smith (I can’t imagine Will Smith playing this role), Jamie Foxx kills it in by far his best role yet. He’s not overpowering nor underwhelming. Foxx perfectly balances the hatred of those who done wrong and the motivation to find his love. But the film relies on the performance of Christoph Waltz. My goodness, besides Tarantino’s films, we should be ever so grateful for his introduction of Waltz to the world. One of the more gifted and charming actors of our time, is there anyone else we would’ve wanted to play Dr. Schultz? This isn’t Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds (ironic that a German witnesses the worst part of American history), but this is a character filled with grace and responsibility. Devoted to his promise, we see a man who hates slavery, and finds purpose in helping a once enslaved man begin his new life of freedom. I have no doubt that Waltz was the only choice for this role for Tarantino, and I hope these two work together for years to come.
But we cannot forget Leonardo DiCaprio’s work as Calvin Candie. It was refreshing to see him play a villain, and though he falls back to his tendency of over-emotional reactions, we welcome this because we aren’t rooting for him. We are afraid and intimidated. This is not what we’re used to nor expect from DiCaprio, and it was a pleasing experience watching him have a blast with this character, as was Samuel L. Jackson. A black household completely devoted to his owner, Jackson is also best when paired with Tarantino. Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson all deserve Oscar nominations.
This is a film worth waiting for. It’s worth paying the overpriced ticket, the overpriced popcorn and the overpriced soda for. This is why we go to the movies. Quentin Tarantino is fully aware that the art of the theater is slowly dying, and his way of fighting back is by making movies like Django Unchained. We should all be thankful, as he’s made one of his best films, and easily one of the best films of 2012.
Django Unchained receives 4 stars (out of 5).