Well well, this certainly is a movie. I’m certain most of you have heard both this and that about this Tarantino creation by now, so I figured I might as well throw my opinion into the vast mix of the Internet, while largely avoiding spoilers.
In true Spaghetti Western style the film opens with a cheesy theme song which mainly involves singing “DJANGO!” over and over. Tarantino is good at capturing the style of certain genres, while also adding his own flair to it. It feels very much like a Spaghetti Western; dark and brutal, while still having some good humour in there; yet it also has that distinct Tarantino feel. One thing I can’t recall seeing anyone mention, but that I will: This is a long one. About 2 hours and 45 minutes. I’d say it uses the time well, but I still feel like mentioning the length because I was a bit surprised after it was done.
Right off the bat: Yes, they say ‘nigger’ a lot in this movie. Both white and black people use it like it’s the only term that exists, and I suppose at the time that was pretty much true. I’ll just say that it didn’t really bother me since it felt appropriate for the setting, but then again I’m white, so maybe I’m just callous.
And like all Tarantino and Spaghetti Western movies, it is spectacularly violent, with the extra excess Tarantino likes to add like extreme blood-spatter to make it all appear hyper-violent, glorified and unrealistic. The gunfights tend to be very “clean” in how gory and over-the-top they get, so it’s hard to turn your eyes away. Like a rather silly scene where someone gets shot from a sideways angle, and yet fly straight backward in an almost comical manner.
Yet with all that there are two scenes where the violence takes a rather different twist into seeming a little too real, and at those points it became too hard for me to watch, and I had to cover my eyes until they were done. No hyper, no glory, just… this word gets over-used and mis-used a lot, but the best one I have is visceral. Brutally visceral. Like the movie wanted to show us a glimpse of real violence to unnerve us and contrast with the almost cartoony hyper-violence. For those who have seen it, I am talking about the mandingo scene and the dog scene.
They seem to have gone to great lengths to be historically accurate here, and I admit it was a fascinating look into a part of American history that I’m sure most Americans would rather forget about. I played Assassin’s Creed 3 recently, which also did a lot to make sure it portrayed historical figures as accurately as it could, but even there they kinda glossed over the whole issue of slavery. So I was looking forward to Django Unchained partially to get a little more insight, since history is one of my favourite subjects.
That said, the movie doesn’t really concern itself much with historical events. At the beginning it says it’s set two years before the civil war, and it wraps up before it reaches the war. It focuses on Django’s story, and his evolution from abused slave to a man to be recognised and reckoned with. This is brought home by stellar performances from the actors.
Jamie Foxx is the titular Django, who gets unchained early on, so you can’t fault the film for its name. He is helped by Doctor King Schultz (formerly dentist), a German bounty hunter with a dislike of slavery and a definite like of money, masterly played by Cristoph Waltz. Schultz notices Django’s rage and heartache, and realises his potential pretty soon. So he agrees to train the former slave as a bounty hunter, in return for his help with bounty hunting over the winter, and then the good doctor promises to help Django find his wife as soon as the snow melts.
This leads them to Candyland, the plantation owned by ‘monsieur’ Calvin Candie, played by a disturbingly psychopathic Leonardo DiCaprio, who runs it with the help of his head house slave Stephen, played by a crotchety and sinister Samuel L. Jackson, and his sister Lara Lee, played by Laura Cayouette. To be honest, the women in this movie are largely just there, and don’t really stand out, not even Django’s wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington. Not that they play their roles badly, far from it, there just isn’t all that much for them to do.
None of the women are gunslingers, although there was one of Candie’s cowboys who I’m fairly sure was a woman. Since she never removed her face-scarf, so I can’t say for sure. And Tarantino wrote in a role for himself as an Australian slaver, which I personally found rather amusing. It was an explosive performance, that’s for sure.
What more can I say? Waltz tends to steal all the scenes early on with Schultz’s methodical and almost light-hearted approach to what they’re doing, while Foxx gradually takes over as his character grows, and they move into territory Django is more familiar with. DiCaprio delivers one of his strongest performances I’ve seen in a long time, and Candie is delightfully unpredictable. He’s the kind of character I love to hate. Jackson as Stephen feels like the more worrisome of the two though, as his cruelty is more devious and thought-out.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I give Django Unchained my recommendation. Definitely one of my favourite Tarantino films, probably over Inglorius Basterds, and maybe even over Kill Bill. If you don’t like (or at least don’t mind) Westerns and can handle the hyper-violence, you’ll get a movie with a stellar cast, an interesting story and a fascinating look at what is probably the darkest period of American history. It certainly doesn’t pull any punches.
There have been accusations of racism thrown around, but I don’t really see it. There is what fits the setting, but I didn’t really get the feeling that there were any racist intentions behind it, or in the minds of the actors or film-makers. Could it be considered exploitative instead? Perhaps. I’ll leave that to you to make up your own mind about.