Quentin Tarantino is back, and back in a big way with the Academy Award nominated DJANGO UNCHAINED. Set in the South just two years before the Civil War, the tale revolves around bounty hunter Dr. King (Christoph Waltz), who needs help from a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to ID a few prospective bounties. They form a good partnership, and King agrees to help track down and rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda, who was sold to the brutal slave master Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Tarantino is an acquired taste, and I certainly understand that his uber-violent, Sherman-like march through every film genre imaginable isn’t for everyone. I’ve been a fan almost from the beginning, when a friend had me watch RESERVOIR DOGS on laserdisc one night as a primer about a month before PULP FICTION hit theaters. There’s something about Tarantino that is reassuring to me as a film goer. My professors at school hate him, so of course I love him like any disobedient teenager would love something a parent disapproves of, but it goes deeper than that. Quentin is one of us. He is a film geek. Oh, he didn’t go to USC to take classes or hone his craft in small shorts… his film school was the same as mine: years jockeying a counter in the local video store. His curriculum wasn’t just the required classics like CHINATOWN and CITIZEN KANE, but every thing they had to offer, from every genre, the good.. and the bad. And he took notes.
This time he sets his assault on the spaghetti western, that particular breed of film that made Clint Eastwood a star. And he delivers a film that surprises by being a very good western as well as a reverent nod to the spaghetti flicks of old.
Jamie Foxx does a very good job as the lead character “The D is silent” Django. He manages to transition from broken slave to milady comic fish out of water to brazen bad-ass and make it believable. DiCaprio is still mining for Oscar gold, and was snubbed by the Academy again this year. But he will get a nod someday, and I predict he’s shock many with an eventual win. His Calvin Candie is as Country Fried Southern as they come, (with the possible exception of Don Johnson, in a surprise role that was hysterical) smarmy and slick and more than a little dangerous and deranged. There’s some scenery chewing, but it’s done on purpose and effectively. Samuel L. Jackson shows up again, this time playing a too-loyal house slave named Stephen, who in his own words is “the most hated negro in cinematic history”.
But my acting praise goes once again to Christoph Waltz. He was mesmerizing as Nazi Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, (deservedly winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the performance) and once again wove a spell so powerful I could not take my eyes off him. Maybe it’s the marriage of his acting with Tarantino’s dialogue, creating a rhythmic, hypnotic cadence, but I’ve resolved to start watching everything the man is in. He’s that good, and I expect him to take home another statue.
The “N” word flies fast and furious–to the point where as a white man I questioned how uncomfortable I should be–but again I think that was Tarantino’s goal. Slavery should be uncomfortable. And like he did with BASTERDS which had a slightly eschewed version of WWII history, DJANGO UNCHAINED also veers a bit from the established path in order to tell it’s story. It may also be Tarantino’s most polished film thus far, managing to be technically proficient and yet still marked by his unmistakable style. And yes, it IS violent, and over the top in many cases. But a lot of the violence is surprise violence, which lends to a laugh and takes the edge off. It’s not till late in the film that it gets truly bloody, but by that time Django’s path to revenge has you riled up and ready, nearly blood thirsty as you want to see these unsavory characters get whats coming to them.