There may be a lot of fantastic films opening this year (particularly with it being time for Oscar bait), but the one I’ve been waiting for the longest, Django Unchained, has definitely wound up being my favorite. Everyone knows I’m just a tad bit obsessed with Quentin Tarantino films. So much so, that I named my dog Beatrix Kiddo ala Kill Bill. While I may have named my most recent puppy Pixar, that doesn’t mean I’m not inclined to the rest of his films’ character names. And if I were to ever have a male dog, his name would be Django (“the D is silent”) after Jamie Foxx’s badass version of the character, originated by Franco Nero, unleashed in Django Unchained.
Beginning in 1858, two years before the Civil War, Django is shackled and chained being hauled away by his new owners, the Speck Brothers (James Remar and James Russo). Along comes another weary traveler by the name Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is a German dentist, retired and working in the States as a bounty hunter. He is currently looking for the Bittle Brothers — Big John (M.C. Gainey), Ellis (Doc Duhame), and Roger (Cooper Huckabee). Schultz knows Django knows who they are and acquires a violent bill of sale for Django so that he can point them out. Django knows what they look like after he and his wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) were sold separately from their original “owners” Curtis Carrucan (Bruce Dern).
After taking down the Bittle Brothers on Big Daddy’s (Don Johnson), a run in with the country’s most disorganized pre-Ku Klux Klan group, and Schultz taking Django under his wing teaching him the tricks of his trade, they come to find out that Broomhilda has been sold to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Candie owns the fourth biggest plantation in Mississippi called “Candyland,” where he makes money in slave Mandingo fighting. Now Django is on a mission to get back his wife and continue his new free life under the name Django “Freeman.” But things eventually go from bad to worse and it becomes a true fight to the finish against Candie and his gang of henchmen lead by Billy Crash (Walton Goggins), and Candie’s right hand man Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
Anyone who’s ever been to a Tarantino film knows what to expect from his excellently eclectic musical choices to a cult classics’ collection of supporting players. Keep your eyes peeled for Franco Nero himself, Tom Savini, Zoe Bell, and Jonah Hill; along with Michael Parks clearly playing a distant relative of his Earl McGraw from Kill Bill, Grindhouse, and From Dusk Till Dawn. Even clocking in at what could have seemed like a bloated, self-indulgent 165 minutes flies by thanks to his trademark banter and more intentional laughs than ever. This is as close to a full blown comedy as we may ever see from Tarantino, and it helps make Django Unchained his most accessible as well.
I won’t be surprised to find Waltz’s name getting called again at the upcoming Oscars with Tarantino writing another brilliant character for him after he won Best Supporting as Col. Hans Landa for Inglourious Basterds. And we could also see a few more Oscar nods, particularly in the way of cinematography courtesy Robert Richardson. Personally, I couldn’t wait to see how things moved along with Tarantino’s long-time collaborating editor Sally Menke having passed on. I have to give Fred Raskin his due for being more than up to the challenge.
Viewers be warned, however, the film is every bit as violent as you’d expect out of a Tarantino film, and along with the diatribes comes more use of the N-word than has been heard in film possibly ever. But don’t let any of this put you off; unfortunately, that’s just how things were back then. And only Tarantino could make slavery seem like fun. While Unchained may not necessarily be the best film of 2012, it’s definitely my favorite. Fun has a new name and it’s spelled D-J-A-N-G-O.
Photos courtesy The Weinstein Company