Director Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, is receiving its fair share of controversy due to its subject matter and language. Hopefully, said controversy just gets more people out to see what is easily one of the BEST films of the year, and one of Tarantino’s masterpieces (I’m debating whether it’s better than Inglourious Basterds still). The film is a brutal spaghetti Western that delves deep into America’s racist past and delivers stellar performances by Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and a tour-de-force performance from Leonardo DiCaprio.
Bounty hunter Dr. King Schulz (Waltz) commissions the help of a former slave named Django (Foxx) to find a group of men and collect a bounty. In exchange for his help, Django hopes Schulz can help him find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who has been sold to the sadistic Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).
Django Unchained is an expert blend of spaghetti western, slave opus, action and comedy anchored by some of the best performances this year. Director Quentin Tarantino shows his flair in ways I haven’t seen exhibited in a long time. Everything works on this film, including the soundtrack filled with pulsing songs, and the cinematography. There are several sequences in this film that are simply beautiful. The KKK raid is reminiscent of Birth of a Nation while other scenes including a blood-spattered horse and the blood spraying on cotton in the trailer are transcendent images. This is easily Tarantino’s most complete and linear storyline with three key sections throughout the two-hour runtime. Part one follows the partnership of Schulz and Django, and their tracking of the Brittle Brothers. Part two follows the duo as they make their way to Candyland to find Django’s wife, while part three involves Django taking revenge on those who wronged him. The film feels like a complete journey filled with hilarity and action. Make no mistake, Django Unchained is brutal. The violence is copious and involves a lot of blood packets (no CGI blood here). When people aren’t being shot, there’s extensive usage of the N-word, and other slave atrocities. One can’t really complain considering the time period, but especially the slave fighting sequence is flinch-inducing.
Expect almost all the actors involved here to get awards when the time comes. Smaller cameos from Walton Goggins, Jonah Hill, and other actors are hilarious and add a range to the rouges gallery that’s presented on-screen. The trio of male actors though are what sells the film. Foxx has never been better as the title character. He’s aggressive, smooth, and genuine as Django. He’s not afraid to bare anything and everything for this role, and you believe the stakes are high for him. Waltz is fantastic, as always, playing Django’s mentor. His speech detailing his career is on par with his opening monologue in Inglourious Basterds, but here he’s a still got that classy formality that makes you take notice him. The true scene-stealer is DiCaprio as the nefarious Calvin Candie. I can’t recall the last time DiCaprio played such an evil and heartless character, but I truly hope he gets recognized for this. One scene has slapping the table so hard his hand starts to bleed, only to have him brush it off. That was not planned, and DiCaprio did start bleeding! I think that scene alone shows his dedication to the character. He is the cool Southern gentlemen, but when he gets angry you better be in the next room. He is unflinchingly terrifying; a lion waiting to pounce. It’s a game-changing role for him!
The film does have a few flaws, but they’re nitpicks if anything. The film does run about twenty minutes long towards the end. Once Django leaves Candyland he goes to a mining company. The scene lasts about five minutes, and just seems to be shoved in there to allow Tarantino his obligatory cameo. It doesn’t aid the plot at all, and feels like a large adventure that doesn’t belong in a small scene like that. The main plot feels so complete that with the addition of that scene it feels like a giant shove of a detour before returning to the film’s finale. Also, Kerry Washington seems out-of-place as Broomhilda. The role is underwritten to have her be the damsel in distress, but Washington just feels incidental to the plot because the other three leads are so domineering.
Django Unchained is one of the best movies of the year, and one of Tarantino’s best. I can’t say much more than “go see it!”