Django Unchained (2012) – A Review


Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, but if you ask me who could be more in love with cinema, I will answer you…no one but QT. Sit yourself down in front of your television or monitor, put on some Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds, etc., and sit back for two and a half hours of some memorable storytelling that’ll stick with you. Django Unchained, Tarantino’s newest film baby, is no exception. It’s a wild, bloody ride through the pre-Civil War American South with Jamie Foxx as the titular protagonist and Christoph Waltz as the smooth–talking and brutal Dr. King Schultz, the bounty hunter that takes Django under his wing as a protégée in the business.

You can look up the plot yourself. I want to talk about more important things, like cinematography; that sweet, sweet classic Tarantino dialogue; and how if Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t win an Oscar soon, I shall be very, very put out. If there’s time at the end, I’ll discuss my plan for my marriage proposal to Quentin Tarantino. Haha, no.

What’s cool about this film is that it starts off as a buddy comedy of sorts. Dr. Schultz and Django make their way downtown, walking fast, faces pass and I’m homebound through the South killing people on their bounty list and collecting their due. Django turns out to be a hell of a shot and a partner, so the good dentist makes him a deal: help me out and I’ll help you get your wife back. Oh, yeah. Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is currently a slave at Candyland and he’s trying to rescue her. It’s just like the board game, except instead of candy and fun, it’s slaves and misery. Sounds like a dud to Milton Bradley, too. Anyway, their goal is Candyland in Mississippi. How do we know when we’re there? GIANT FREAKING MARQUEE SPELLING IT OUT FOR YOU A LA HUGO STIGLITZ IN BASTERDS. GOD LOVE YA, QT.

Now we’re transitioning from buddy film to revenge tale. Shit’s about to get real pretty soon, but we’re only two hours into the movie, so sit tight. While that’s happening, let’s discuss aesthetics!

I gotta say, Tarantino movies of late (aka post-Kill Bill) are such a decadent feast for the eyes. Not to detract from the camera work in his stuff from the ’90s, but those films boast a more grungy aesthetic: lots of blood and dirt and general blech. Initially, Django has plenty of that grittiness, too, but then we arrive at Candyland. Oh, sweet antebellum architecture, you never let us down. Rolling plantations, the finest china in the dining room, a fully stocked bar, a couple of mandingos locked in a deadly brawl on the floor – wait.

AND THAT’S WHERE HE GETS YA! Tarantino gives you this lovely display of Southern haute culture, and then BAM – juxtaposes it with the very worst of 1860s racism.

And then, there’s Calvin Candie himself, played by the incomparable Leonardo DiCaprio. On the outside, he’s the quintessential Southern gentleman: dressed to the nines, hospitable, well-spoken…but don’t forget to address him as Monsieur…and make sure that’s the extent of the French you speak to him because that’ll embarrass him. Sorry, Christoph, you only get to be fluently bilingual in this film. As the film progresses, the refined exterior unravels to reveal a deranged, ignorant and downright terrifying bastion of bigotry and the product of instant gratification that only being a wealthy plantation owner with hundreds of slaves at your beck and call can bring.

There’s one more character that warrants discussion. I am, of course, talking about Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom character Stephen, who serves as Candie’s right-hand man and is just about as bigoted as he is. Seeing Django up on a horse like some plebe who’s lost his damn fool mind just about causes him to keel over right then. But while this controversial character adds some reeeeally uncomfortable comic relief (let’s be honest: this whole movie can be uncomfortable for people who eat white privilege for breakfast), he’s the ultimate catalyst for what unfolds in the Candyland mansion. TREACHERY, MUTHAFUCKAH, DO YOU SEE IT?

And the dialogue during the dinner scene…and the dialogue whenever Christoph Waltz says anything ever…it never ceases to amaze me how you can have a full half an hour in your film devoted to just dialogue and you’re hanging on to every word. It’s beautiful. Granted, there are plot points galore in the conversation, but it doesn’t start off that way, it’s all “ooh we’re gonna make a sweet deal on a mandingo” and “ooh look at this borderline incestuous relationship I’m heating up over here” and “ooh is that real hand-blown Polish glassware?” Okay, that last one wasn’t real. Again, you get it. It’s mundane and ridiculous and you’re mesmerized.

Of course, no Tarantino film is complete without cringe-inducing moments of physical pain for the characters. Candie smashes his hand on a glass, Django very nearly becomes a soprano (and no, I’m not talking about Tony), and just a slew of other Michael-Madsen-cuts-off-an-ear-in-Reservoir-Dogs equivalents. This precedes the ultimate showdown of ultimate destiny inside the Candy Mountain Cave where the white walls get a red makeover and people die and whatnot followed by a simply explosive ending. Classic QT!

I’m toeing the line of Spoiler Land here, so I’ll leave you with this: Django is nothing you haven’t seen before in a Tarantino film, but that is nowhere near a bad thing. You can tell he has a ton of fun crafting these things and he makes sure you do as well when you watch them. Tarantino loves cinema, and it loves him right back.

Final verdict: A+

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