Reviewed by Billy Tatum, Jr
In contrast to my recently reviewed “Allegiance”, where rookie director Michael Conners was incredibly reserved with exploring themes regarding loyalty to friend and family alike, Quentin Tarantino shows what happens when an old veteran puts everything out there, throwing caution to the wind and even daring to spark controversy in the slavery payback film “Django Unchained”.
Set two years before the start of the civil war, “Django Unchained” opens with the title character and three other slaves being led through the woods in the dead of night. When German dentist King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) attempts to buy Django, the slave-owners refuse and a gun battle results with them on the wrong end of the bullet (and you thought Shark Tank was cutthroat).
As the screams of the remaining slaveholder ring through the night, the well-mannered dentist reveals his true identity as bounty hunter. After showing Django up close the perks of the job, he offers to grant him his freedom if he helps him track down three fugitives operating on the plantation of a Colonel Sanders-esque Big Daddy (Don Johnson) with whom Django is all too familiar with. Django assists Schultz and then some, so much so that he’s overcome with Django’s quest (and nearly savant gun slinging skills) to rescue his recently sold wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a comfort slave with the unique ability to speak German. The only catch is that she’s in the clutches of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), owner of the mega plantation called Candieland. Candie’s ruthlessness is only matched by his bad dental hygiene as our heroes eventually discover.
Tarantino skipped cinematic a la carte and went full-on buffet in “Django Unchained”. Not that he was ever known for showing great restraint, but he definitely lets loose in this 165 minute epic. Easily mistaken as merely an homage to the spaghetti westerns of Leone (and blaxploitation films of roughly the same era), Django’s journey goes from the intentionally and unintentionally comedic to the romantic. It’s a buddy film as Schultz gains a growing respect for Django to the point that he remembers what’s worth sacrificing. Gunfights are brutal and deep fried in comedy in moments. Although the true brutality couldn’t be captured on screen, Tarantino is quick to show images that make it hard to watch…and that’s a good thing. From the lashes on our heroes back to the torture a slave faces for disappointing Candie, we’re always reminded that this is a period piece where the period had little to be proud of.
Jamie Foxx manages to maintain a smoldering anger on screen that constantly keeps you wondering if he’s going to blow his cool or blow his cover travelling alongside the more prim and proper Schultz. Samuel L. Jackson as Candieland’s head slave, Stephen, is almost hard to recognize at first, but will have you laughing and fearing him with his maniacal portrayal. He doesn’t show up into the movie reaches the two hour mark, but steals nearly every scene he’s in.
Speaking of two hours, the movie runs nearly an hour beyond that, so be prepared for a long sit. It’s probably the film’s only true drawback. In paying homage to every genre of the 70s from blaxplotitation to westerns (spaghetti and otherwise), and the occasional nod to Tarantinos’s previous films, unfortunately nothing was left on the cutting room floor.
With a soundtrack that is bound to have something for everyone from those longing for more westerns and the riding music within to kids who would like to educate their parents on the melodic sound stylings of Rick Ross, there’s a lot unchained here and you get the feeling that Tarantino wouldn’t have it any other way.
Django Unchained. MPAA Rated R for vicious fights, language, brief nudity and strong graphic violence. Running time: 165 minutes. In theaters
Billy Tatum is a movie reviewer and entertainment writer for The Los Angeles Post. He’s written for popular sites such as Hollyscoop, We Got This Covered, Fastlane and Paste Magazine. He has worked for HBO as well as local television. Billy is also a freelance writer for Examiner.com. His reviews are written with the overall moviegoing experience in mind. He’s usually found sitting in the 3rd row. Contact Billy at firstname.lastname@example.org