Man, I love Tarantino movies. They’ve got action, adventure, thrills, sass, and hilarious amounts of blood and dismemberment; everything a good flick needs. That’s the short version of this Django Unchained review, to be sure, and it is bloody. That tends to happen when a freed slave turned bounty hunter gets to exact revenge on the sadistic slavers who took his wife from him. Paired with a charming German ex-dentist named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and armed with enough guns to change the air-to-lead ratio, Django (Jamie Foxx) sets out on a quest to buy his wife’s freedom from the nefarious Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) of the Candie plantation.
Now, the first thing you should know about Django Unchained is that the story takes place in 1858 in the South. If gratuitous use of the N-word makes you uncomfortable or outright offends you, steer clear!
The story begins with a transaction gone foul: Masquerading as a dentist, Dr. Schultz approaches two slaveholders and their latest purchases in the night, wishing to acquire a particular slave that might harbor knowledge of his latest bounties. In truth, he is a bounty hunter employed by the United States government. When the slavers threaten to kill Schultz if he doesn’t depart immediately, one winds up with a hole in his head, and the other with his leg broken underneath a dead horse. Despite the bloodshed, or perhaps owing to it, Django agrees to help Schultz in his hunt, and the two depart for the Gatlinburg plantation where the Brittles are employed.
Over the course of their journey together, Django proves himself to be a competent bounty hunter, and so Schultz takes him on as a sort of partner/apprentice. They roam the land, exchanging the corpses of criminals for cash money, and getting themselves into particularly tight situations that are resolved only by Schultz’s immaculate charm. At a point, Django tells Schultz of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who was sold at an auction in Mississippi. Schultz realizes that he’s witnessing a real-life rendition of the German fable of Siegfried. He feels compelled to help Django, and so the movie shifts to its main attraction: Candyland!
Calvin Candie, the owner of Candyland, is a man that deals in mandingo fighting; a brutal form of one-on-one combat to the death with virtually no rules beyond winning at all costs. Schultz and Django – disguised as a novice mandingo aficionado and a talent evaluator, respectively – veil their desire to purchase Broomhilda with an outlandish offer of $12,000 for one of Candie’s top mandingos, Eskimo Joe. The head house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), doesn’t take too kindly to the fact that Django, a black man, isn’t treated like a slave. While Candie is seduced by the prospect of making money, Stephen sees right through the sham and lets his master know what’s what, forcing the two bounty hunters into a very dire situation indeed. And that’s the cliffhanger I’ll leave you with.
This movie is two hours and forty five minutes long, just so you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re touchy about racism or ultraviolence, you’re going to have a lot of both on your hands if you try to sit this one all the way through. If you’re sufficiently jaded as I am, you can laugh at the overdone violence, revel in the righteous vengeance Django and Schultz lay down on the sadistic slavers, and feel pretty good when the movie ends with a literal bang.
Anthony Quinn of Independent.co.uk thinks that Tarantino’s delicious Western spaghetti wasn’t cooked enough, and may have a bit too much sauce. In a single word, one might describe Django Unchained as tropey or campy, requiring viewers to take the film’s sporadically silly and dramatic content with a grain of salt. But as I said, I’ve got a blatant bias towards most every Tarantino film I see, so perhaps you’d best check out the Independent review here for more perspective before you watch.