Movie Review: "Django Unchained"

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Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, this Western drama is set in the Deep South and follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave who treks across America with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German dentist turned bounty hunter. Together, they try to retrieve Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the charming but sadistic Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his band of ruthless slavers.
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Movie Review: “Django Unchained”

Rating: Not yet rated
Length: 165 minutes
Release Date: December 25th, 2012
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Genre: Drama, Western

Quentin Tarantino directs Jamie Foxx in this film about the unlikely partnership between a German-born bounty hunter Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and a newly freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx). The duo meet upon Waltz shooting two slave transporters in hopes of soliciting Django to join him and help execute his next bounty, as Django is one of the few people who can identify a notorious band of brothers. While Django agrees to help, it’s immediately clear that his sole motivation is to find and free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who he lost to the slave trade years ago.

The cinematography, true to Quentin Tarantino, both honors the style of a 60’s spaghetti western while maintaining all the allure that is expected in a Tarantino film. It’s both romantic and bloody, shifting from dark to uplifting, and always bouncing somewhere between light and intense.

In the first scene, the audience meets Django as he is being led through the cold woods as part of a chain gang of slaves. It’s freezing out, and the slaves have nothing more than a blanket wrapped around their shivering bodies. Ankles bloody and shackled, it’s clear Tarantino has no desire to skirt around the harsh realities of American slavery. This intentionally accurate and dark illustration of slavery keeps “Django Unchained” from ever getting too light or slapstick; the backdrop of slavery acts as an anchor for the light-hearted nature that comes with any modern adaptation of a spaghetti western.

For those unfamiliar, Spaghetti Western was a nickname given to specific Westerns in the 1960’s that erred more on the side of campy than intense. Lighter than traditional westerns, they were always “just a little off”. The term ‘spaghetti’ comes from the fact that a lot of these films were directed by Italians like Sergio Leone, and while some were truly amazing films, others were criticized for being a cheesy take on classic American westerns.

While “Django Unchained” is far from campy, it’s clear that Tarantino’s inspiration comes from a playful relationship with traditional Westerns, as the film is at times hysterical, providing the staple Tarantino juxtaposition of humor and violence. And there is certainly plenty of violence to be found here.

The romantic narrative is not, however, to be lost among all the violence and humor. At it’s core, this is a film about Django’s quest to find and legally free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Through the help of his bounty hunter partner Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), Django is able to locate his wife, all while earning enough money to buy her freedom by killing for bounty alongside Schultz.

The pair locate Broomhilda at a plantation run by the notorious Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and devise a plan to trick him into selling her to them under the guise of purchasing more expensive slaves for fighting. Candie’s right hand man Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) eventually discovers their plan, upon which a bloody massacre follows and Django is forced to use all of the skills he has acquired as a bounty hunter to fight for both his life, and that of his wife.

The last hour perhaps drags a bit, but nothing significant enough to take away from the overall quality of the picture. With Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and Quentin Tarantino directing, there is no question that the acting in this film is exceptional. If nothing else, it is a showcase of talented all-stars, directed by one of the greatest directors of modern cinema. The film is a marvelous piece of art that will likely be remembered and enjoyed by both fans and critics for a long, long time.