Django Unchained, Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson. Distributed by the Weinstein Company. Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity. Running time: 165 minutes.
Imagine you’re a slave in the American South in 1858. In an attempt to escape the brutality and horror of that “life,” you and your beloved wife flee from your “owner”—but you are both captured. Your wife is beaten savagely while you are forced to watch. You are then sold separately. You later are purchased out of slavery and have an opportunity not only to free your wife, but also to exact revenge. This is the situation the lead character faces in Django Unchained (“the ‘D’ is silent”).
Quentin Tarantino’s film is one part romantic rescue, one part friendship, and two parts bloody revenge. When dealing with the romance and the friendship, the film is moving, even beautiful. When dealing with the revenge, the film is a bloody spectacle typical of Tarantino—and the gratuitous blood and gore are what keep Django Unchained from joining the ranks of the classics.
Potential viewers of the film should be warned: The blood practically drips from the screen. The film is filled with brutal, stomach-churning scenes, as when slaveholders lash slaves, force them to fight to the death, and unleash dogs to tear them to shreds; as when a man is blown to bits with dynamite; as when a vicious plantation hand nearly slices off Django’s privates; and as when the bodies of half-alive men are riddled with bullets. No one can be blamed for avoiding this film on the grounds that it is graphically, even obscenely, violent.
For those who can look past the film’s gruesomeness, Django Unchained offers a compelling story of friendship and love. The story begins when a bounty hunter—Dr. Schultz, a German immigrant who once practiced dentistry—buys Django out of slavery and enlists him in tracking down wanted fugitives, beginning with three brothers who brutalized Django’s wife and innumerable other slaves. When Schultz learns that Django intends to rescue his wife from slavery, Schultz compares his new friend to a stylized German folk hero and agrees to help with the quest.
The performances are uniformly amazing, from the numerous cameos by well-known actors, to the minor roles, to the leads. Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio deserve special mention: Waltz as the surprisingly sympathetic Dr. Schultz (a role for which he won an Oscar), DeCaprio as the villainous slaveholder holding Django’s wife. The film’s best scenes involve Django (Jamie Foxx) interacting with those two characters.
Tarantino is a brilliant writer and director, and he inspires his actors to spectacular performances (although his own acting is terrible). Unfortunately, as with all Tarantino films, Django Unchained nearly drowns in its own blood.