Quentin Tarantino is considered by most to be one of the most original directors out there today. I find this amusing because most of what he does is spin older B-films from yesteryear into more modern dramas. From “Kill Bill” to “Jackie Brown” to the classic “Pulp Fiction,” all of his films are throwbacks to when he was a kid, watching old movies in some tin can theater in Los Angeles, CA. His style has been called “grindhouse,” and this film, based loosely on the spaghetti westerns of the late 60’s, is another iconic film added to the Tarantino arsenal.
Set in the late 1800’s, this is the story of Django. When we first see Django (played by Jamie Foxx), he is being escorted by 2 old cowboys, shackled in chains and walking through the northern part of Texas with several other slaves. In rides Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter, who seeks Django’s help to find 3 brothers who are wanted by the law. The doctor promises Django his freedom once he has helped him find the 3 outlaws so that he can bring them in dead or alive for the bounty. Upon their “retrieval,” he then proposes that the 2 of them remain in business and promises that, once the winter has ended, he will help Django find his wife who has been sold into slavery in Mississippi.
All through the winter they ride and once spring finally comes, the 2 of them search for Django’s wife, Broomhilda. They find that she has been sold to a cotton plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and now lives in “Candie Land,” the third largest plantation in Mississippi. From there, they must find a way to get onto the plantation and rescue Broomhilda from Candie Land without breaking the law or causing a commotion in the dangerous south.
I won’t go into any more plot points because all of the accolades for this film (Oscar nominations, Golden Globe nominee, etc) are well-deserved and I don’t want to give away any more secrets. Tarantino has made a well-paced, tightly scripted movie here and I only could find fault in one aspect of the movie, which I will get to in a second. But first, I have to mention that all of the cast of “Django Unchained” are top notch in their performances. Between Foxx as the quietly composed Django, to Waltz as the cooly confident “Schultz” to DiCaprio as the complex “Calvin Candie,” every performer does great work here. One of the highlights was Tarantino favorite, Samuel L. Jackson, as Candie’s slave butler, Stephen.” Jackson, under makeup and almost unrecognizable except for his eyes and smile, gives a commanding (and often comical) performance as Candie’s right-hand man who does something that completely surprised me. Of all the performances, his was the one that totally made this movie worth the price of admission mostly because I hadn’t heard much about it and it was such a pleasant surprise!
The script is typical Tarantino. Lots of action, lots of fascinating dialogue and entire scenes that build to climax with humor and tension combined. Unlike most of his films, the film is pretty much all done in real time so there isn’t any jumbling of sequences like in Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill. This is a plus, I think, with only a few flashbacks to tell the story of Django and his wife. Sometimes keeping up with the flow of a Tarantino film can be confusing. Here he simply drops you in a time period and lets the story go from there.
The only negative I have about this film, and there have been some people who have cried “wolf” about a white man directing a film about slavery (see Spike Lee’s rant against it here), is the music. Usually Tarantino has excellent taste when it comes to using music that fits the flow and the time frame of his films. But in “Django,” I found some of the choices annoying. At one point he uses a Jim Croce song and then later he makes use of a Rick Ross track. This bouncing around in musical genres may work in some cases, but here it becomes somewhat annoying, especially since there are quite a few montage moments that require a musical touch. Not ALL of the music is poorly chosen, mind you. Actually, the opening sequence song is perfect for this type of spaghetti western style, but in some cases, the music was almost distracting because it just didn’t fit the movie.
That being said, this is definitely a great movie to see in theaters. How it sizes up with the rest of Tarantino’s movies is yet to be seen however I can say I enjoyed it more than “Inglorious Basterds” but not as much as “Pulp Fiction” or the “Kill Bill” films. On those terms alone, this qualifies it as one of the best movies of 2012!
Overall Rating: A