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Review: Django Unchained

The Weinstein Company: Jamie Foxx in "Django Unchained"I may be wrong, but I think that the first time that I heard of Django Unchained was when I found myself going through a list of scripts that were “blacklisted” in Hollywood. A script being blacklisted, essentially means that it’s tossed to the side and it stands a great chance of never seeing the light of day. Along with many other scripts that I found out about on this list, this one sounded a bit interesting and I really wanted to see how it would play out on the big screen.

Soon after that discovery, I read that Quentin Tarantino actually picked it up and was going to write it and direct it. With him in the director’s chair, I knew then that it wasn’t going to be the usual movie about slavery, and more likely than not, Tarantino’s continuous use of an infamous word that begins with the letter “N” would be on display for a large portion of the film. Based on historical accuracy, I’ll ignore the use of that word for now and admit that none of this caught me by surprise. The one thing that did surprise at first however, was hearing that Will Smith would play the lead character.

That news caught me off guard, because with the exception of the film Ali, Smith has built his brand off of avoiding characters that are the least bit controversial or will be recognized by their race. At that time, I remember thinking that “I’d be shock if he actually took the role” as Django in Django Unchained. I felt this way , because the man formerly known as “The Fresh Prince” has this “smiling Black man” image that made him the biggest star in Hollywood at one point not too long ago. Going against that seemed impossible to me.

Then I later read that Jamie Foxx would star as Django in Quentin Tarantino’s take on the spaghetti western film genre. That news sounded more believable, because unlike Smith, Foxx has always had the flexibility to play characters with many different styles and personalities. He isn’t tied down to the same restrictions that bind Smith. Whether it’s movies, television, music, comedy or drama, this award-winning actor can do whatever he chooses. The final question for me heading into Django Unchained wouldn’t be the lead actor though;I wanted to know if it would be any good? That is more important than anything else.

Set in the deep south, just two years before the beginning of the Civil War, a German who goes by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) has his sights set on purchasing a slave. He’s not searching for a slave for the usual reasons that a person would want to purchase a slave for. He wants a slave that knows the names of three men known as the Brittle brothers. Well, this cold and wintry night may end up being a good night for the German, as he appears to have lady luck on his side.

His travels bring him to a trio of men leading a hand full of slaves to their next destination and he wants to ask a few questions before he makes his acquisition. He goes down the line asking the slaves their names, and soon runs into Django (Jamie Foxx). Django knows the three Brittle brothers and Dr. Schultz decides to make his purchase after what I would call some fairly difficult negotiating between him and the three sellers that he wishes to buy from.

After the sale goes down, Django and Schultz set off to find a comfortable spot where they can hatch a plan and negotiate between themselves. Schultz despises slavery and hopes that it will one day be permanently banished from the face of the earth, but for now, he’s going to use it as a bargaining chip in his one-on-one negotiations with Django. As it turns out, the German is actually a bounty hunter and he needs Django’s help in identifying the brothers that he’s attempting to track down. Schultz tells Django that he’ll be granted his freedom once and for all if he helps him find the trio.

Django agrees, and before you know it, the slave and the hater of slavery begin their venture to find the Brittle brothers. Over the course of their journey, the two become close friends and Django is trained in the cold business of bounty hunting. As he’s learning violent skills that can put a good chunk of change into a free man’s pocket, Django tells Schultz about Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), his lovely wife that he hopes to find and set free from the oppressive chains of slavery.

Soon after this conversation, the two close friends who have bonded and see one another as equals now, have another offer on the table. This time it’s not about being a bounty hunter or making money. The good doctor wants to assist the man with a silent “D” in his name in finding and rescuing Broomhilda, the love of his life. It’s another deal that Django can’t afford to pass up on. Having an opportunity to get his wife back is something that can’t escape his mind, and it’s something he’s willing to risk his own life over.

As they make the trek across the lower half of America, the two men with the skills of bounty hunters find themselves in multiple precarious and dangerous situations that are bound to turn out deadly one way or another. As they move along. they bump into some vicious and vile characters who have evil intentions in mind for a number of different reasons. This is where we as the audience are introduced to what I consider to be the real opening of Django Unchained.

It’s here where we begin to meet the majority of the rest of the cast and learn about the style of violence in the film. Tarantino uses a bunch of well-known faces to tell his story about Django and his excruciating journey to find his wife. We get Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson, but we also get a few other guys like Don Johnson making an appearance. His scenes among some of the other actors that make cameos are actually quite funny and keeps us busy while the story is being fleshed out. These experiences help bring much life into the film.

As far as the violence and brutality goes, Django Unchained gives quite a bit of that with blood, guts and anger being delivered in a very animated way. When people get shot, blood splatters all over while sucking the life out of its victims. With all of that, there are a few scenes that stand out to me for various reasons. Some of it is due to the way the blood is used, while in other cases, it’s the circumstances of how a particular person(s) meets his maker.

In many of these action sequences the audience will watch Django and Schultz handle these fights in a very smooth yet vicious way to illustrate the level of bloodshed coming from both a savvy old veteran who’s taken more than his fair share of lives and a young man who’s still learning the ropes of the bounty hunting business after finally getting a taste of life away from chains, whips, degradation and all of the other travesties that he and his brethren have faced for centuries.

In the midst of all of the maniacal and raging violence, and the comedic elements that are mixed in with it lies the remorseless and inhumane treatment of slaves, both male and female. Tarantino goes out of his way to show many of the things that took place and how people would have probably reacted to it back in those days. Some of it is fictional, but it all gets the point across. In a sense, including this material keeps all of the elements of Django Unchained balanced by never allowing the audience to forget that both good and bad, these people are in fact human.

At the center of much of this negative treatment of slaves in Django Unchained is a psychopathic slave master who goes by the name of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). When it comes to slave owners, Candie is as bad as they come. The man with a plantation that carries a fitting name, doesn’t respect his slaves and could never possibly see them as human. To make matters worse, he doesn’t seem to have much respect for anyone outside of his inner circle either. He’s a sophisticated, yet classless individual who is best described as someone who wears his heartlessness on his sleeve.

Of course, like probably every slave master ever, Candie has a right hand man there to help him whenever he needs it in the form of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a longtime slave in the Candie household. Stephen, the quintessential uncle tom kind of house negro: he looks down on Blacks while managing to worship at his master’s feet. Jackson plays this role just as well as anyone else plays their’s. He’s this funny, evil dude that adds an abundance of personality to a film that already has an abundance of personality thanks to its characters and the film itself.

With Django Unchained, we have this crazy movie that’s wildly entertaining in my opinion. I’ve seen movies predicated on slavery, movies that contain comedy, spaghetti westerns, and films with graphic violence, but I don’t recall seeing anything quite like this before. When you take all of that and mix it in with some entertaining cameos and some unexpected (and expected) twists, you have a movie that’s engaging and captivating all the way to its fantastic blood filled conclusion that will leave many satisfied as the tale of Django’s treacherous journey fades to black and the end credits begin to role.

Score: 4/5

Rating: R

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast:
Jamie Foxx
Christoph Waltz
Leonardo DiCaprio
Kerry Washington
Samuel L. Jackson
Don Johnson
Jonah Hill
Walton Goggins
Laura Cayouette
M. C. Gainey
James Remar

Film Length: 165 minutes

Release Date: December 25, 2012

Distributor: The Weinstein Company

 

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