Could any other director besides Quentin Tarantino bring us such a masterful spaghetti western/fairy tale/historical fiction period piece about slavery? Absolutely not! With Jamie Foxx in the titular role, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio in the mix, Django Unchained is one of the most unique films of the year and proves that Tarantino can combine genres and filmmaking techniques like they were musical instruments in a beautiful symphony.
We first meet Django as one of several slaves in a chain gang being transported across a snowy landscape. His captors have a run-in with bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) and Django teams up with the German “servant of the court” to track a gang of wanted men who brutalized Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) before she was sold to another slave owner. Along the way, Schultz is moved by Django’s quest to reunite with his wife and agrees to help him locate her.
The journey leads them to Calvin Candie (DiCaprio), the dastardly slave owner of the “Candyland” plantation, where Broomhilda is currently being held. Candie is a ruthless man who tortures his slaves and enjoys “Mandingo fighting”, pitting two slaves against each other in a battle to the death for his amusement. Together, Django and Schultz adopt an elaborate cover story to help them infiltrate Candie’s world and free Broomhilda, but Candie’s head house slave, Stephen (Jackson), catches wise and rats them out. From there, all hell breaks loose in a violent, heroic and supremely engaging tale of cruelty, revenge, friendship and love—Tarantino style.
The violence is spontaneous, brutal and hard to watch. Tarantino makes no attempt to shelter the viewer from the horrors of slavery and there’s no glossing over scenes involving a man being torn apart by dogs or two slaves battling to the death for the amusement of their white owners. No doubt people will claim the film employs excessive use of the N-word and presents graphic, nearly stomach-turning violence, but that’s the point. Slavery was the lowest point in American history and it should be presented in all it’s disgusting, horrifying, appalling splendor.
Foxx and Watlz have excellent chemistry and their Butch and Sundance dynamic makes both very endearing. Jackson puts out a fantastic performance that is both comedically exaggerated and delightfully loathsome. Even smaller appearances from the likes of Don Johnson and Jonah Hill enhance the story.
Still, the absolute standout is DiCaprio, who plays a true, evil-to-the-core villain. Candie is charming and charismatic, but simultaneously abhorrent, something only an actor as skilled as DiCaprio could flawlessly pull off. Every minute he’s on screen is a delight, like a diamond on top of an already golden film and he deserves enormous acclaim for this role—and hopefully a few trophies this award season.
Django shows us why Tarantino is one of the most brilliant directors in the game. He utilizes fantastic actors, showcases sharp dialogue and engaging writing, uses cinematic techniques that span genres, and delivers an incredible film.