Always controversial filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has rewrites history again with Django Unchained. Much like all of Tarantino’s films, Django is full of vengeance, killings, and violence. It’s the kind of you’ll either love or hate. While this type of genre might not sit well with some audiences, I quite enjoyed the film as a nuanced re-imagining of the practice of slavery.
The films tells the story of Jamie Foxx’s Django , a bright slave who is tapped by a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz ) to help him track and kill a fugitive plantation owner. In addition to killing a lot of slaveowners, Django goes on a quest to find his wife Broomhilda who was previously sold at auction after the couple attempted to escape.
There’s a lot to enjoy about Django Unchained. First, the film is so incredibly well acted that it’s hard to decide which actor is giving the best performance. Kerry Washington, Jamie Foxx, and Christoph Waltz are all superb. Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as Stephen, a sycophantic house slave, is stellar; it’s no surprise why Tarantino continues to work with him. However, it’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal as slippery slavemaster Calvin Candie that really steals the show for me. DiCaprio becomes Candie. Even for a seasoned actor like DiCaprio, this might be the performance of his career. He delivers the role with a kind of depth and grace that a lesser actor might not have given. As usual with Quentin Tarantino films, his own cameo might be some of the worst acting of the entire film.
The film works in a number of ways. First, it tells a compelling love story between Broomhilda and Django. The scenes where Django imagines Broomhilda giggling in a forest or swimming in a stream while he journeys to find her are terribly sweet and romantic.
It also works as a comedy. The humor is sharp, and in spite of philosophical questions about whether it’s okay for a depiction of slavery to make the audience laugh, it really does work. There is a Mel Brooks inspired scene dealing with a gaggle of hooded lynchers that is particularly hilarious.
The film also tries to present a critical and nuanced version of the practice of slavery. At times, Candy doesn’t even seem to fully understand the system of slavery and racism that dictates his existence.
I was initially quite critical of the film for portraying a sanitized version of slavery, a fantasy version of slavery where black women lounge on plantation swings and eat at the table with the plantation owners. However, the film lingers on the visceral, violent, ugliness of the practice in a way that seems to provide a purposeful counter to those kind of criticisms. There is a particularly difficult to stomach scene wherein a slave is torn apart by wild dogs; the film is careful to depict actual historical torture methods slaves faced on plantations in a few (if any) movies have.
The Verdict: Django Unchained an enjoyable film that makes interesting use of Western tropes to re-imagine slavery as a revenge narrative. While the violence might turn some off, it’s worth seeing even if only to get an idea of what all the buzz is about.
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson
Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Best Cinematograp