As much as I would want to, I can’t recall the first time I ever saw Pulp Fiction but I’m pretty sure I had no idea what it was about anyway. I was quite young, that I’m sure of, and while the first experience surpassed me with all its nuances, the following experiences with Tarantino’s movies made this writer+director one of my current favorites. But before I can say I have seen all Tarantino’s works (writer+director), I must pen down a rather long and full of praise review of Django Unchained.
Django Unchained is Tarantino’s seventh full length movie (not taking into account the segments in Four Rooms and Grindhouse) and its premises is based on the western genre – not a surprise, considering one of Tarantino’s favorite movies is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966). I’m not an expert of westerns, I’ve hardly seen glimpses of them during lectures and at home, but the feel of the movie certainly gave an impression that the spaghetti westerns had a strong influence on the final outcome. Visually and story wise, Django Unchained takes place out of our time and has various elements relating to westerns but this doesn’t mean that the movie itself didn’t create an experience far better than those silly action movie plots taking place in the 21st century.
The main story takes place in 1858 around two men – Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave that becomes a free man (Freeman) and Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz), a former dentist immigrated from Germany who is a bounty hunter. Schultz needs Django’s help to identify three brothers who have a bounty on them, but instead of departing after a successful mission, the two form a unique duo in order to save Django’s wife Brunhilde (Kerry Washington) from Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Next to Candie there’s also a servant who’s very over the top role is brought onto the screen by Samuel L. Jackson, at this point I’m not sure if I loved his character or I found him a tad bit annoying. But a lot happens in this movie before they get to Candie’s property, which is ironically called Candyland, and this is mostly in order for the viewers to get to know the main characters.
While one should like the main protagonist Django, I developed a stronger bond with Waltz’s character Dr. Schultz, who was not just surprising but also very likable. Seeing Waltz play a good guy after winning an Oscar for portraying a villain in Inglourious Basterds, was beyond a delightful experience! Man, that German is brilliant and I hope he and Tarantino will continue on working together in the future. That being said, Dr. Schultz’s character was by far my favorite because there was a certain simplicity in his complexity, meaning, he had heart but that heart stopped feeling sorry for those who had done wrong with the law. While he battled with slavery and its morality, he did not feel sorry for killing a man in front of his son – simple and yet complicated. In addition, he was fairly sarcastic and ironic, which for me is immediately something I’m drawn to in characters.
Django was constantly changing as a character, he started off as a slave, then became a skilled bounty hunter and when meeting Candie, he took upon a role of a ruthless black slave owner – a disposition that was conflicting with his actual feelings. In the end of the movie, he showed off his violent side that he seemed to enjoy a lot. Foxx did a good job with his role, during the whole movie I had a hard time picturing any other man in the role of Django which is pretty much the best compliment there is. Still, his role somehow fell short next to Waltz and DiCaprio but that is only because Schultz and Calvin J. Candie were much more interesting as characters. Obviously there has been a lot of discussion around Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as the villain in Django Unchained, mostly to due with the fact that he was yet again left out from the Oscar nominations. I agree with the general chatter, Calvin J. Candie was a standout role that deserved a nod, maybe even more than Waltz’s portrayal of the kindhearted bounty hunter. Especially considering the fact that DiCaprio was able to go from a simply obnoxious character into a downright scary man in a manner of seconds. How one looks a bit intimidating at first and then suddenly embodies a great deal of evil in himself is certainly worth much more than DiCaprio has gotten this award season.
All the characters feel timeless in Django Unchained, even though the topic is revolving around slavery and is placed inside a western genre, in a way they still feel relevant. Same goes for the soundtrack, which is a mixture of old and new put together and it fits perfectly with the movie. There’s this one scene where Candie, Schultz and Django are traveling with the slaves to Candyland, which is accompanied with Rick Ross’ 100 Black Coffins that is very memorable. Honestly, it’s been a while since the usage of a song makes me laugh but in a good way! The disposition of the scene, a carriage, men riding on horses and slaves walking in front of a nature scenery while a rap song is playing on the background, is for some reason the best thing ever.
Another thing that was awesome in Django Unchained was its Tarantino type violence. I heard a lot of things going around when Tarantino got a bit frustrated with the question of violence during an interview, and it got me wondering. I myself think it’s a bit stupid to start criticizing the movie over its heavy use of blood and the topic of violence, there’s simply no point. Just because the American blockbusters don’t show the casualties of their yet again World ending action plots where aliens come to take over our land, doesn’t mean that the premises doesn’t kill thousands of people! And yet, when a single man kills around 50 bad guys (I’m not sure of the exact number but I’m guessing at this point) and there’s a lot of blood it’s suddenly unacceptable violence – isn’t that ironic. Besides, Tarantino’s take on violence has a hint of humor in its core – for instance when Candie’s sister gets shot, she flies out of the scene in a manner of unrealistic proportions which is funny. Also related to that scene, I read that a critic was disturbed by the reaction of the audience (they probably laughed as much as I did when she flew off), well, I’m shocked that people aren’t used to things that are ridiculous and funny at the same time – violent or not.
So while Tarantino himself gets frustrated that his movies are attacked over their usage of violence, I’m not afraid to say that I enjoy it. I actually love the blood gushing and the guns blazing when Tarantino does it because somehow it’s almost elegant in a way. And looking at the high IMDb score of Django Unchained, I’m not the only one who feels like that. Though I do feel obliged to confess that as much as I enjoyed Django Unchained, Pulp Fiction remains my favorite and the overall plot of Inglourious Basterds was a bit better. Then again, comparing this totally different movie, highly influenced my a genre I’m not familiar with, to Tarantino’s earlier works seems unnecessary. Therefore, standing on its own, Django Unchained is entertaining and filled with subtle humor that Tarantino is known for, plus, for those who are not disturbed by violence nor find the topic of the movie racially insulting, the 2 hours and 45 minutes will be certainly worth ones time.