Django Unchained is brutal, sickly comic, and often hard to watch. That being said, it’s also a smart film about racism and slavery, masterfully crafted by talented filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino. A late arrival during 2012, Django Unchained should be in the conversation for best picture of the year, if critics can get past the excessive gore and racist language. Tarantino crosses the boundaries of what is comfortable in order to shock, amuse, and drive home a powerful message into your brain — and he succeeds completely on all counts.
This satirical revival of the blaxploitation genre tells the story of a bounty-hunting dentist who frees a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in order to help him track down his latest reward. Feeling responsible for the man he freed, Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) teaches Django how to shoot, read, and even promises to help him free the woman he loves from a rich slaver, Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The romance between Django and his bride, Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington), is one of the weaker aspects of the narrative. However, the relationship between the former slave and Dr. Schultz is surprisingly deep for a Tarantino movie; their mutual growth serves to push the plot forward.
The story unfolds in a series of episodic acts, each feeling like their own stand-alone arc. This approach is something fans of Tarantino are likely accustomed to, though I will add that it works better here than in Inglourious Basterds.
At first it isn’t clear just where Dr. Schultz’s ethics lie, but he’s soon revealed to be quite an enlightened man in a world gone to hell around him. Although he pretends to be a slaver during the course of his duties, the dentist (who never touches a tooth) betrays his character more than once, showing compassion for the abused men and women around him – abuse which can be quite intense.
The level of cruelty committed by men in this movie is hyperbolic but never melodramatic. Yes, Tarantino uses violence to entertain, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be used as a powerful tool for emotional depth. In my opinion the excessive violence serves the themes well, with a perfect blend of blood-fueled comedy and some downright disturbing moments that enraged me immensely.
I grew to hate the bad guys in this movie, and I simply couldn’t wait to see justice done upon them. There is no sign of humanity in Calvin Candie; he is an evil man who truly enjoys causing pain to his enslaved property. In a way he’s little more than a one-dimensional villain you’ve seen in countless other adventure stories, but somehow that’s exactly what this over-the-top tale needed.
Tarantino takes aim at the issue of slavery by creating a classic story of good-vs-evil that is both satirical and completely serious. There are moments in this movie that hit me a lot harder than I expected, especially considering the tounge-in-cheek tone of all the action. Somehow everything blends together perfectly, but it’s very hard to articulate exactly why. This truly is Tarantino at his best; never has his unique approach to filmmaking been so realized.
There are still all those “what the f—“ moments Tarantino fans have become accustomed to. For example, the opening scene shows slaves being marched through the woods, only to be approached by a carriage with a huge spring-loaded tooth on the top. Other scenes feature violence juxtaposed with inappropriate music or anachronistic rap. At times it felt like I was watching a film by David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick, two amazing auteurs Tarantino has earned the right to be compared to.
While I have much praise for Django Unchained, this isn’t a perfect movie. It’s about a half-hour too long, and it loses its chance at a truly climactic ending. I don’t want to blow it for you; you’ll just have to see what I mean – I could have done without the final act.
Still, all things considered, Django Unchained is the coolest western ever made, and it’s one of the best films of 2012. I’m not sure this is Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, but it certainly deserves to be in the conversation. Fans and casual moviegoers alike will love this movie, assuming they can learn to embrace all the stylish violence.