Tarantino’s latest outing might also be his best, or at least his best since Pulp Fiction. If you’re like me, then Tarantino’s film outings over the last years have been hit or miss, usually both in the same film. Working backwards we have Inglourious Basterds which was extremely entertaining until you get to the part of the story centering on the French girl’s theater. Before that we had Death Proof a wildly self-indulgent snore fest, and Kill Bill which was more fun, but also self-indulgent. It goes on, the common theme is ‘Tarantino-ism’ at any cost, even if the cost is telling a good story. Not quite to Shyamalan levels, but disappointing to say the least.
The point of all this front-loaded complaining was because Django Unchained defied all of those issues. Was it stylized? Yes. Did it hurt the story? Not even a little bit.
Dealing with slavery right on the cusp of the Civil War, this is the story of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who teams up with bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Initially a simple business arrangement, the two become fast friends and partners, and later try to free Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from slavery.
Absolutely a film that rests on the strength of strong characters, Django Unchained is wild fun. Now bear in mind that it does deal with slavery, and while not meant to be realistic by any means, it can still be hard to watch. Tarantino indulges his love of gore and bad people, with both present throughout. We also are treated to great music, wonderful scenery, and a sprawling story. Clocking in at nearly three hours, this movie never feels long, but does feel full.
For such a fun character romp, I would be remiss if I failed to single out some of the actors who went above and beyond. Naturally, Jamie Foxx was exceptional as the titular Django, delivering a performance that was soulful and only verged on being ‘too cool for school’ once or twice. Considering how badass he is in this film, that’s a great achievement. Samuel L. Jackson plays the head house slave (they don’t call him slave, I’m being polite) as an unrepentantly evil bastard. It’s pretty ballsy to put an evil black person in a movie about slavery nowadays. Also be sure to keep an eye out for some really fun cameos and smaller roles by famous actors, including: Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, and Jonah Hill to name a few.
With such awesomeness abounding, there are two people who take my prize. Leonard DiCaprio as southern ‘gentleman’ Calvin J. Candie, and Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Both play their characters with hidden depths, with DiCaprio being all charm and flash over a brutally evil core, and Waltz charmingly brutal over a good heart. It’s tough to choose who I think did a better job, but in the end I picked Waltz. While both were wonderful, it was the relationship that we see grow on screen between Django and Schultz that was the emotional core of the film. If not for that then it would have been another Kill Bill, a fun revenge flick, all flash and no heart.
It’s probably still too fresh in my head to fairly claim this was my favorite movie of the year, especially in a year that included The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises. Don’t go see this expecting a measured discussion of slavery, go see this expecting a great story. You’ll laugh, cringe, and cry. In the end what else can we ask of our entertainment. Django Unchained is absolutely worth seeing, don’t miss it.