Quentin Tarantino is a hero for film nerds like me. The guy worked in a video store, began writing screenplays then moved onto directing some of the most influential films of the last twenty years. Tarantino’s films reflect the movie genres he was passionate about. Crime noir, martial arts and grind house drive in movies have all been tackled by the energetic filmmaker. This time around Tarantino would make his ode to the spaghetti western that influenced his style of story telling over the last two decades. If Quentin raised eyebrows with his take on World War II, I expect those eyebrows to be on the back of your head when he takes on slavery in Django Unchained.
Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who has been separated from his wife (Kerry Washington) by his evil masters. Django is freed from his shackles by a Bounty Hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). With help of Django and the cover of a Dentist, the good doctor brings in his targets dead or alive. As you can imagine in a Tarantino film, most of the wanted men are brought in deceased at the hands of the duo. Schultz promises Django if he helps him bring in his former masters, the wanted Brittle Brothers, he’ll help him find his wife and award them their freedom.
Tarantino has come a long way as a filmmaker and story-teller since his breakthrough debut Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino no longer confides himself to empty warehouses or back alley rooms. Instead he’s making films in the great wide open of Wyoming and the deep south. Django Unchained is by far Tarantino’s most beautifully shot film. The cinematography is gorgeous jumping from the snowy mountain terrain, to the humid atmosphere of a pre Civil War Mississippi. Most Tarantino films come with a lull, but Django Unchained is one of his few films that doesn’t get too slow or the script falls in love with itself. For a movie with a 2 hour and 45 minute run time, the film moves at a rapid pace as Foxx and Waltz blow through the first two acts without me once checking the time.
The main reason for me not checking my watch is my eyes were glued to the screen from the superb acting performances in Django Unchained. Waltz and Tarantino are the new power duo when it comes to Director/Actor collaborations. Waltz is fantastic as the forward thinking German Bounty hunter who sees Django as a man, an equal and a friend. Waltz has a great chance of repeating success with Tarantino since he has become the front-runner in the Supporting Actor category this awards season.
Waltz’s stiffest competition may come from his own castmate Leonardo DiCaprio in a rare villainous turn as the evil Calvin Candie. DiCaprio’s Candie is a shameful portrait of a man from America’s pre 13th amendment society. DiCaprio is vile and disgusting as Monsieur Candie which makes the performance all the more powerful. I applaud DiCaprio for stepping out of the hero role and shining with such a despicable character.
Jamie Foxx is unfortunately overshadowed in the film since his character is supposed to be the strong silent type. Foxx is solid in the lead, it’s just Waltz and DiCaprio are given roles that are meant to stand out in the Tarantino universe. Speaking of standing out. Wait til you see the scene stealing comedic performance of Don Johnson as Big Daddy. Johnson needs to thank Danny McBride and the crew from Eastbound and Down for showing the world how big his funny bone is. Tarantino favorite Samuel L. Jackson also gives a sinister performance as an evil house slave who prefers the order of the old south. Jackson’s performance could be another dark horse candidate to snatch a nomination come Oscar time. All these great performances and scenes are set to the classic Tarantino style of soundtrack with everyone from Rick Ross to Jim Croce.
Now if you’re easily offended by violence and certain words in the English language that were used much more frequently during the slavery era, then this is not the film for you. Tarantino pushes the boundaries of violence and language on film like we have never seen or heard before. It’s a Quentin Tarantino movie, what else would you expect. If you look past the blood and cursing you will realize that this is the best Tarantino story on film since Pulp Fiction. As far as directing goes, Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker. Tarantino has managed to mix memorable performances, compelling story telling and an experienced director’s eye into an instant western classic. I give Django Unchained 4 Big Potatoes.