Quentin Tarantino, flushed with success after Inglourious Basterds, has debuted the second of his alleged historical group of films Django Unchained, and it is truly a quintessential Tarantino film. Django is elegantly written and performed, the filmmaking is skillfully executed, and the result is a humorous yet no less hard look at slavery in the American South.
In the 1850’s, before the American Civil War, Dr. King Schultz (Chrisoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter who travels in a dentists’ carriage, frees and enlists the help of the slave Django (Jamie Foxx). Schultz needs Django’s help visually identifying his next bounties, but Django intends to use his newfound freedom and deadly friend to rescue his wife from the most infamous slave owner in Mississippi (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The most expected qualities of a Tarantino film are what make his mark as a director on the film industry: blood and guts, a collection of great performances, and a witty script. Django has both in spades, along with a great cast. Django’s Golden Globe award winning script is one of Tarantino’s best, combining a strong and difficult subject and a humor that is identifiably his. The film has the ability to make you gasp and hoot with laughter simultaneously, which is hard to do successfully. What makes it really great is that no one character or performance hogs the spotlight.
Christop Waltz is brilliant as the silver-tongued anti-slavery German bounty hunter while Jamie Foxx is stoic, smart and deadly as Django. Waltz has already proved himself as a versatile and strong acting presence, introduced to the mainstream film world through his blood curdling performance in the previously mentioned Basterds. He is brilliantly humorous and, on a level, sweet as Schultz, and his duo performance with Foxx is funny and endearing. The film allows for their two characters to have tender moments, showing the wonderful connection between abolitionist and slave.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as the dominant slave owner Calvin Candie is stunning. The charisma that he exudes is palpable, but it is so easy to hate him, as he is clearly just an evil man with skewed and seemingly non-existent morals. DiCaprio is funny, charming, morally disgusting and dangerous all at once, the perfect combination for the film’s villain. If you wonder why so many are complaining about Leo’s lack of award hardware… watch and you’ll know. Samuel L. Jackson plays one of the films’ most morally skewed characters, Candie’s personal black house gentleman Steven, who seems to hate free slaves as much as Candie does. Steven is clearly in the film to provide opposing opinions about the slave trade from the African-American side of the story, and Jackson’s performance made me squirm a bit.
Everything about Django Unchained makes it a great film to pop some popcorn and enjoy the ride. Even the music – a mix of instrumental, hip/hop and folk adds to the mix of hilarity and sincerity that comes with a great Tarantino film. The only massive complaint is that there is a clear stoppage point where, if it had been written to, the film could have ended. But for reasons unexplained (except for a directorial cameo) the film carries on. This does kill the momentum of the film to the point we just want it to be over because the ending was so clear.
As an Oscar contender, Django has already shown that its script and acting can win awards, but Tarantino might have to settle for a best film nomination as Django is up against some stiff competition in that category.
Django Unchained is now in UK theatres.