Django Unchained (2012 The Weinstein Company)
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
Directed by Quentin Tarantino | Produced by Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone | Written by Quentin Tarantino | Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Let’s get something out of the way: I’ve never considered Quentin Tarantino a “genius” filmmaker. I don’t put his directing on par with a guy like Spielberg or David O. Russell. That being said, Tarantino might be one of best filmmakers around right now for one reason: he puts out damn entertaining movies!
That’s exactly how I rate Django Unchained. Of all the Oscar-nominated films I watched this year, Tarantino’s homage to spaghetti westerns—right down to the inclusion of a new Ennio Morricone composition—was an absolute fun experience.
Right from the opening credits—also an homage to Sergio Leone’s films—Django Unchained jumps right into action as a pair of slavers encounter the eccentric and loquacious Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist cum bounty hunter in search of a slave named Django. Thus begins our story.
While Tarantino’s directing style clearly emulates those genres he loves—Sergio Leone westerns, in this case—he puts his own stamp on it with brilliant dialogue, unexpected comedic turns, unique, memorable characters and over-the-top blood and violence. No, Tarantino may never be regarded as “the best” director, but who cares, when you’re having this much fun watching his movies? And that’s exactly why I loved Django Unchained.
The actors’ performances are typically brilliant of a Tarantino film, thanks to his writing. And it’s right down the line. Even characters with brief appearances in Django Unchained stack up nicely against the heavyweight leading cast, thanks to the script.
Most notable among the supporting performances is from Don Johnson. Yes, that Don Johnson. As plantation owner Big Daddy, Johnson delivers two scenes that will undoubtedly have you laughing out loud. But the performance I feel hasn’t been talked about enough is Leonardo DiCaprio, as the ruthless Calvin Candie. He was simply brilliant and engrossing in this villain role. You simultaneously hated him, but couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say next. Conversely, with Waltz’s character, you loved him and couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say next.
Every character entered and exited the film with great dialogue and depth of character. Kerry Washington, as Django’s German-speaking love interest, gives a muted but emotional performance. Tom Wopat—Tom freakin’ Wopat!—was hysterical in his one scene. Walton Goggins, as one of Candie’s henchman, continues to be outstanding at playing creepy, awful characters.
Yes, Dango Unchained is bloody. Yes, it’s violent and, at times, so in-your-face it may be difficult to watch. And yes, the N-bomb is as common as cowboy hats and spurs in this picture. But this is all part and parcel of Tarantino’s over-the-top style of filmmaking. He turns everything up to 11. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s unfair to brand Tarantino racist or the catalyst of any violence in society. His films are gratuitous, to the point of being comical. You either love it or hate it. Me? I can’t help but love it.
I don’t know if Django Unchained will win many awards tonight. But for me, it was the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time. That’s got to account for something.
RATING: **** (out of 5)