Remember being a little kid waiting for Christmas? There was a big anticipation for the wonderful gifts you may receive and from a few suspicious packages under the tree, you guessed it would be all you wanted and more. That’s kind of how I was waiting for Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Django Unchained, to release on Christmas. Thing is, instead of unwrapping a remote control helicopter, new bike or whatever would make your head explode into instant joy, Django was like finding an odd kind of gift your lovably weird uncle picked up at a mystical thrift store. It’s still so unique and undeniably cool, but I’m not sure I know what to do with it yet. I genuinely like the film and am thankful for it, but I’m not sure if I love it or if I will grow to do so.
Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave in the American south about two years before the Civil War. You know, the height of southern arrogance, or elegance, depending on your point of view. Anyways, he is freed by a German dentist turned bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). He asks Django to help him find and kill the Brittle brothers and earn a share of the profits. The two become a team and as Django puts it, “Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like?” When they get word that Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), is on a large plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) plantation, they concoct a plan to buy her and save her from the slave life.
While they are only supporting, Waltz and DiCaprio are the biggest forces driving this film forward. We clearly see that Django would be nowhere without his quirky German friend, his silver tongue and charismatic reasoning brings them in and out of danger as smooth as the tide. And DiCaprio is a perfectly evil southern gentleman that we love to hate. During the dinner scene, his unexpected burst of anger is amazing and made me jump. He can just seethe that intangible arrogance and disregard for his slaves that we can’t even imagine a real person possessing. Best of all, he can drink out of a coconut chalice like it’s not a joke. I wish both men had the Oscar nomination, but I’m happy Waltz is in the game.
Django Unchained is nominated for five Oscars total. Beside’s Waltz’s Supporting Actor nomination, the film also holds Cinematography, Original Screenplay, Sound Editing and most importantly a Best Picture nomination. I was surprised Tarantino was not up for best director, but there have been greater tragedies.
The scene featuring early clan members is one of the funniest scenes I’ve ever seen in a Tarantino film. The band of about thirty half-wit white men on horses has met out in the middle of nowhere to ambush Dr. Schultz and Django’s camp, but there’s one problem: their masks suck. An argument brews about them, “I can’t see shit!” Jonah Hill has a fun part here trying to make his eye holes bigger only to make it worse. Best of all, the man who supplied the masks gets all huffy about their ingratitude and rides off. The whole scene works wonders to poke some fun at the KKK and allege that their beginnings were just born out of pure stupidity.
In fact, the way Tarantino treats most of the white southerners feels like such fun and sweet revenge. They are all either hilariously stupid or so evil that you love to hate them. That may sound like his treatment of the Nazis in Inglourious Basterds, but it feels much different here. It’s kind of like how Spielberg treats the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but cranked up to eleven.
Django has all your basic Tarantino elements and keeps them fresh. There is plenty of blood splashing, gun slinging, slave whipping violence that could be a bit much for the casual film fan. There is plenty of flowing dialogue, led mostly by Waltz and DiCaprio while Django is a badass hero of few words. The soundtrack is nowhere near the 1850s, but the selections give such a perfect tone to the film that we shouldn’t care. Let’s see, there’s also a Mexican standoff, a few fun explosions, and enough use of the N-word to burn the ears off the most politically correct. It’s a very Tarantino film.
Like I said, I really liked Django Unchained, but I think I need more time and more viewings to find out if I love it. To be fair, I didn’t love Pulp Fiction at first viewing, and I didn’t even like Kill Bill the first time I saw it, (blasphemy, I know). But I do know I like Django, this weird Spaghetti Western/Blaxploitation inspired revenge film full of blood, quirky characters and unexpected hilarity.
“I’m just a little more used to Americans than he is.”