Django Unchained is my first Tarantino film, so I was pretty psyched to see it. People who like Tarantino seem to really like him, and I couldn’t take missing out on this powerful cultural force much longer. When I found out Tarantino was coming out with a new film this year, I watched the trailer and made a deal with myself that if I liked Django I would watch some more of Tarantino’s films and it looks like I’ll have to now.
Django Unchained is the story of a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx) who is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) because he knows what the Brittle Brothers look like. Schultz is a bounty hunter hunting down the Brittle Brothers and he needs Django’s help because he doesn’t know what they look like. So they team up, and it works out pretty well. They kill the Brittle Brothers within about the first half-hour. You can’t mess with success, so they become partners. They keep collecting bounties for a year, until they can get enough money to buy Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) her freedom as well.
The plot sounds pretty compact and concise, right? Yeah, but the film is two hours and forty-five minutes long. That is really the only significant complaint I had with it. It wasn’t that I was bored with it per se, I was completely involved the whole time. There were just several points where I thought the film could have ended and maybe should have ended, but didn’t. Without saying too much, it seemed like Tarantino was having tons of fun or something and didn’t want to go home. Like “let’s see how long we can drag this out for? We could end it here, but I don’t want to stop….” I was having fun too, so I guess I see where he’s coming from, but still. I’m not sure if it was the wisest choice in terms of packing a punch with the story aspect.
One of the main ideas in Django is revenge, and this is the theme I think Tarantino overdid a bit. The first example of this is with the Brittle Brothers. In what I can only suppose is true Tarantino fashion (I’ve heard a lot about his epic violence), Django wastes no time in viscously killing two of them. He shoots the first guy with a “I like the way you die, boy” and then whips the second one before shooting him multiple times. Tarantino gives an explanation of their crimes in flashback, so I for one felt pretty okay with this. Another great part about this scene is the ridiculous outfit that Django has on. I don’t think the message that outfit is sending is “black people choose ridiculous outfits,” but rather that appearances don’t matter. Sure, he’s a black guy with a crazy outfit, doesn’t stop him from killing those two guys.
Revenge was pretty fun in the first half of the film. Django and Schultz go around killing all these criminals, and they’re so good at it I couldn’t help but get on board. “Shooting bad guys, I’m cool with this!” But when they get into the rescuing Broomhilda part of the film, it was like they couldn’t stop themselves from seeking revenge at every opportunity. They just kept coming for more and more revenge, even after they had rescued Broomhilda. This had me thinking, “no, what are you doing? You rescued her now get out of there!” In the end they still rescued her (that’s kind of a spoiler but you can pretty much tell that’s gonna happen from the beginning of the film), but it took longer and we saw more blood. Maybe that’s what he was going for, but in my opinion Django would have seemed smarter if he had just quit while he was ahead.
Whenever you have a movie with slavery in it, it’s a given that you’re going to be dealing with issues of racism. How Tarantino handled this did not bother me at least, though it may bother some people. Most of the white people were either evil or stupid, or more likely both. But there is hope yet in Schultz, and I think Tarantino implies that this is because he is German. What I took out of that was that he realized that slavery was wrong because he was not raised in it, as Americans were. All the white Americans were pretty dumb. They got defeated pretty easily, and the only reason they posed a problem was because there were so many of them.
Now we come to relationships. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCapprio) who is the plantation owner that they have to buy Broomhilda from, is the main villain in the film. Django and Schultz use deception to try to buy Broomhilda, and there’s no way Candie ever would have figured out there plan if it hadn’t been for Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a very loyal slave of his. He’s too wrapped up in himself to pay attention to any of the emotions of other people. Also Candie has a creepy implied incestuous relationship with his sister. I really didn’t see the point of that except to make fun of the south; remember in Gone with the Wind how “the Wilkes always marry their cousins?” It seemed like Tarantino was just taking that another step, but for whatever reason didn’t want to make it too obvious or a main issue.
I will say that DiCapprio did a fantastic job as a villain. From what I had seen in the trailer I had complete confidence in him, and he fulfilled all my expectations. I really hope he gets a supporting actor nomination, because even though his character was pretty dumb, he was still terrifying when he needed to be. That skull thing creeped me out, but I won’t say anymore about it. Most of the time he was just a jerkface southerner, but after his sidekick Stephen tipped him off he did not seem so easy to get around. Jamie Foxx also did very well as Django. He had a great ominous stare, so that we knew when he was about to go off and he didn’t have to say a thing.
My favorite character, hands down, was Schultz. That guy was fantastic. He had most of the good lines and was just completely awesome. By the end of the film his and Django’s relationship had evolved so that Django was actually a better bounty hunter/western hero than Schultz was, even though Schultz was a mentor in the beginning. However, he never was superfluous and you had to admire the guy for not being a racist jerk. He definitely got on board Django’s revenge train though, and that turned out to be his downfall. Christoph Waltz also did a fantastic job; it’s hard for me to say whether he or DiCapprio did better. I definitely like Schultz as a character more.
And now for the epic violence! Let me just say that whenever someone gets shot there is literally a fountain of blood. A fountain. I don’t know if that’s true for all of his films or just this one, but it was definitely used a lot. I almost would say it’s distracting, but at least you could tell when someone got shot. It didn’t really bother me too much. The more disturbing things were the whippings and the collars the slaves had to wear, also the fight between the slaves that he showed. However, it was a lot better in terms of gore than it could have been. There was a point when I thought we were going to see a guy get his head bashed in, but we just heard it, which was bad enough.
So all in all, I would say my first foray into Tarantino’s filmography went pretty well. The only really complaint I have is that he dragged on the revenge quest for a pretty long time, but it was fine really. I wasn’t bored and I still enjoyed the film. I was behind Django and Schultz the whole time, even if the revenge went a bit too far in my opinion. Now I’m looking forward to getting into some more of Tarantino’s films!
“He’s not used to Americans.”
*** Edit 19 April 2013: the quote should actually read: “I’m just a little more used to Americans than he is.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars