Django Unchained (2012): American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino's lampoon on human trafficking

An all-hell-breaks-loose Tarantinoesque Western

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

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Django Unchained, Directed by Quantin Tarantino, starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson
Django Unchained (2012)- By Quentin Tarantino
Our Rating: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 8.8
Genre: Action  | Drama  | Western
CastJamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Country: USA
LanguageEnglish | German
Runtime: 165 min

Summary: With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

Django Unchained is a 2012 Western film written and directed by American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The movie stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson in major roles. Django Unchained also features memorable cameos from Jonah Hill, Don Johnson, Quentin Tarantino and Franco Nero, who had played the titular role in the 1966 Spaghetti Western classic DjangoDjango Unchained is Tarantino’s tribute to the visionaries of Western filmmaking—those who conceptualized the decorated genre and more so those who prevented it from dying by reinventing it. The Western genre has always fascinated Tarantino. Right from the beginning of his career it has been his dream to make a Western of his own. Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci are the two filmmakers who seem to have inspired him the most. While Tarantino has never really expressed any keenness to emulate Leone—perhaps thinking his works to be either too sacred or too dull to be touched—he has never eschewed from showing his desire to recreate the "Sergio Corbucci Universe" and to pay a homage to great Italian visionary filmmaker. With Django Unchained, Tarantino finally seems to be living his lifelong dream of emulating his childhood idol. And what makes Django Unchained even more special is the fact that it comes at a time when the Western genre once again finds itself on the brink of obsolescence.

Jamie Foxx as Django in Django Unchained, Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Jamie Foxx as Django in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained
While the classic works of John Ford and Howard Hawkes epitomize the golden age of Western filmmaking, the grotesque, tongue-in-cheeky works of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci—often referred to as Italo-Western or more prominently as Spaghetti Western—clearly represent its new age. At a time when Western genre was looked upon by most filmmakers as dead and buried, Leone and Corbucci not only rejuvenated it but also changed its very face for the better. The Old West which was once governed by the tenets of pride, honor, chivalry, machismo and idealism got metamorphosed into a brutal realm inhabited by realistic, grey-shaded characters that despite their endless flaws couldn't be deemed completely devoid of human virtues. While Leone is often regarded as the master creator of Spaghetti Western cinema, people often overlook the indelible contribution made by Corbucci. With movies like Django (1966) and The Great Silence (1968), Corbucci succeeded in adding a whole new dimension to the Spaghetti Western canvas by painting a nightmarish world haunted by fascist ideologies. In fact, Corbucci's depiction of the Old West was so lurid, stark, brutal and vicious that it often made Leone's portrayal appear dull and placid in comparison.

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained, Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained
Django Unchained presents the larger-than-life tale of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who collaborates with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz)—a German dentist-turn-bounty hunter—in order to rescue his wife from the servitude of a ruthless Mississippi plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). As Tarantino often does but rather so inconspicuously, the movie's plot is yet again borrowed from a classic film, a Western named Nevada Smith (1966)starring the legendary Steve McQueen. The story begins in the US state of Texas in the year 1858—two years prior to the start of the American Civil War. The tone of the movie is set by Luis Enriquez Bacalov’s original Django Theme Song sung by Rocky Roberts—taken in its pristine form from Sergio Cobucci’s Django (1966)—which plays with the opening credits. A bunch of newly auctioned slaves is being marched by Speck brothers. In the middle of the night while passing though a dark unknown forest the cavalcade is interrupted by a polite, well-mannered dentist who introduces himself as Dr. King Schultz. Schultz is in search of a slave who could help him track down the notorious Brittle brothers. Django announces that he knows Brittle brothers and can assist Schultz in his pursuit. Schultz makes an offer to buy Django but the Specks decline it disdainfully. Perplexed by Schultz’s careful attention to the propriety of his conduct, the surly Specks threaten to shoot him asking him to leave at once. Schultz in turn shoots them both, killing one of them while injuring the other. After freeing Django he also cuts loose the other slaves in the bunch and lets them decide the fate of the surviving Speck.

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda in Django Unchained, Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Kerry Washington as Broomhilda in Django Unchained
Schultz despises slavery and treats Django with great respect and even lets him ride a horse to the dismay of the white folk who are flabbergasted by the sight of a black man riding a horse. Schultz tells Django that he no longer practices dentistry and that he has developed a strange liking for bounty hunting as a profession. He tells Django that he wants to hunt down Brittle brothers. He promises Django his freedom and a sum of 75 dollars after he is through with the Brittles. En route Django narrates his life’s tale to Schultz. He tells him about his German-speaking wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and how he was parted from her by his cruel master who disapproved of their marriage. Schultz is deeply moved by Django’s tale and is equally fascinated by Broomhilda’s German connection. Schutlz and Django soon hunt down the Brittle bothers but have to face the wrath of a negro-hating plantation owner named Bennett who wants to avenge the death of Brittles. Bennett and his men launch an attack on Schultz and Django in the night wearing the infamous Ku Klux Klan masks. But the attack is stymied thanks to Schultz’s quick anticipation.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, Mississippi plantation owner, candie land, Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained
Schultz then tells Django the German legend about a beautiful princess named Broomhilda who was rescued from a tower on a mountainside guarded by a dragon and surrounded by hellfire by a brave warrior named Siegfried. Schultz also expresses his willingness to help Django in his pursuit to get his wife back. He asks Django to stay with him all winter and promises to help him track down Broomhilda once the winter has passed away. Django agrees and the two form a great team making a lot of money through bounty hunting. At the onset of summers the duo starts the search for Broomhilda. Schultz finds out that she is under the possession of a man named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio)—the owner of the fourth biggest cotton plantation in Mississippi known as 'Candie Land'. It is at Candie Land that the real business begins as Schultz and Django get acquainted with Calvin Candie. Candie is notorious for breeding “Mandingos”—man slaves who are made to fight till death much like the gladiators of ancient Rome mostly for the sake of amusement. What ensues is an intriguing game of cat and mouse that serves as a great prelude to the movie’s sanguinary finale. In a nutshell, Django Unchained is all about  a valorous black man trying to follow the footsteps of Siegfried in order to free his Broomhilda from the clutches of tyranny.     

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen in Django Unchained, Directed by Django Unchained
Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen in Django Unchained
There’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever that with Django Unchained Quentin Tarantino consummates his trademark style—built around the uncanny combination of gore, glamour, grotesquerie, and dark humor—which is often described using the adjective “Tarantinoesque”. The movie’s filming style also bears a striking similarity to Sergio Corbucci's sanguinary, majestic Spaghetti Western masterpiece: The Great Silence (1968). In Django Unchained, Tarantino fiddles with history (but falls short of rewriting it unlike his previous film Inglourious Basterds) to present his own perspective on several delicate issues mainly concerning slavery. Tarantino’s naked display of uncorroborated brutalities associated with the inhumane practice of slavery, especially Mandingo as its extension has given rise to discontent among certain sections of the white community. Likewise, the movie has received condemnation from the likes of Spike Lee and Tavis Smiley for glorifying the n-word in the tradition of blaxploitation films. But, rest assured, all Tarantino is trying to do is to go tongue-in-cheek!    

Franco Nero making a special appearance in Django Unchained, sitting alongside Django (played by Jamie Foxx), bar scene, Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Franco Nero (Right) makes a special appearance 
Tarantino’s imaginative direction is well backed up by some commendable acting performances from movie’s lead as well as supporting cast. Jamie Foxx delivers his best performance in years, one that is perhaps bettered only by his Oscar-winning portrayal in Ray (2004). Despite bearing several similarities to his multi-lingual part in Inglorious Basterds, Christoph Waltz portrayal easily forms the backbone of the movie. Tarantino once again takes full advantage of Waltz’s polyglot abilities and uses it to great effect at different points in the film. Waltz’s Schultz is basically a representation of all those white men who raised their voice against slavery and contributed to its abolition. Behind his facade of a cold-blooded bounty hunter we discover a righteous human being whose superior intellect is well matched by his great sense of compassion. He inexorable resolve to rescue Broomhilda and his sacrifice in the end inexplicably brings to mind of the great sacrifice made by Abraham Lincoln. Schultz is a symbol of white men’s conscience, courage and virtue in the same way as Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen is a symbol of Black men’s pusillanimity, servility and hypocrisy. Thus, Stephen in many ways is Waltz’s antithesis and the movie’s true antagonist. And to Jackson's credit, he plays the part with great subtlety, guile and conviction. According to this critic, it's his best performance since Pulp Fiction (1994). Leonardo DiCaprio, in a rare negative portrayal, delivers a thumping performance as the sadistic Calvin Candie. A megalomaniac who dresses with the perfection of a fop, Candie is quite easily one of the most menacing Western villains of all time. Kerry Washington plays the part of the slave-girl Broomhildathe only major female part in the moviewith exquisite charm.

Jamie Foxx as Django, Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz riding their horses, Django Unchained, Directed by Quentin Tarantino
A Still from Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained
Overall, Django Unchained has its flaws and suffers from anachronisms and incongruities, some deliberate and some not so. But, Tarantino still manages to pack a strong punch. From the cinematic point of view, Django Unchained is undoubtedly a lesser work in comparison to Inglourious Basterds (2009). But the audacious yet effective manner in which Django Unchained retraces the history, fiddles with it, and presents its dark side makes it an important work of cinema. On the technical front the movie is nigh flawless. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is top-drawer. The movie’s music is a mixture of original and existing sound tracks. The original tracks composed for the film are “100 Black Coffins” by Rick Ross, “Who Did That To You?” by John Legend, “Ancora Qui” by the legendary Ennio Morricone and Elisa, and “Freedom” by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton. Vintage Tarantino, Django Unchained has a multitude of unforgettable graphic sequences filled with abundance of bloodbath and nudity. But the sequence in which Candie insists on shaking Schultz’s hand after being ridiculed by the latter for his lack of awareness about celebrated French novelist Alexandre Dumas black ancestry remains this critic's absolute favorite. With two Golden Globes under its belt and as many as five Oscar nominations the stage looks set for the D-Day. Django Unchained is unusually high on style, but luckily there’s enough substance to keep an intelligent viewer interested. Highly recommended!

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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  1. dude, do not make your knowledges with Hollywood film , study slavery...

  2. Thanks... But. if you read the article closely you will notice that it strictly deals with the analysis of the movie and not with the issue of slavery in the first place!!! :-)

  3. A good wholesome review! Btw, has the movie been released yet in India?

  4. Fantastic analysis. You are right, the movie is not as great as Inglorious Basterds or Pulp Fiction, but it is really a well accomplished effort and an entertaining one too.

    BTW, have you watched Corbucci's "The Great Silence"?
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  5. I am glad you like it... the movie is indeed a well accomplished effort. What made Pulp so special was the fact that it was the first of a kind... it even helped it to win the coveted Palme d'Or.

    Yes, I have watched both of Corbucci's classics, The Great Silence as well as Django... what made the former more special, in my opinion, was its great ending and the presence of Klaus Kinski as its antagonist.

  6. Hey Great review:).Yet to watch this one:).

  7. Thanks Akshay... I am glad you liked it :-)

  8. Whoa... I am confused if this a Wikipedia entry or a blog post? Lol. Super comprehensive dude. Keep'em coming :-)

  9. Thanks Jayanth... I am glad that you liked it. I thought that the movie deserved a long and comprehensive review... just couldn't stop writing once I got started with it!!! :-)

  10. When you have the time ..

  11. Thanks for this intelligent review. But Schultz as conscience of white men? How about pragmatist who knows that keeping slaves as a lifestyle is more expensive than paying free men lower wages... This isn't conscience, this is arithmetic.

  12. Thanks for throwing in your perspective. I would have totally agreed with what you just said had it not been for the extra mile that Schultz traveled to help Django save his wife. But, you are write to a great extent... one just can't deny the fact that Schultz was a pragmatist... an astute businessman who knew well how to weigh his options. But, there was a human side to it too and that's what I have tried emphasizing upon in my review.

  13. Good review. I think I would give it a 7.8. It's as entertaining and funny as expected, but just not as strong as QT's previous effort, and Foxx was not a powerful enough lead.

  14. Thanks Bonjour! I think 7.8 would be quite fair... I agree with you about Foxx for I too believe that he was not as good as the others. Django may not be his best work but being a Western I think it's a worthy addition to his oeuvre.

  15. Thanks Aakanksha... I am really glad that you liked it!!! I think it's slotted for a March release.

  16. Viswanath PadmanabhanMarch 30, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    A well articulated take. And that exactly is what an(y) art form yearns to elicit from a critique.

    My take( is that Django is too long, and QT did not do well by killing off the dentists & the candyman so damn early.

    All said & done, QT is well QT. :P

  17. I am glad you liked it. And as far as the opinion on the movie is concerned, to each his own!!! :-)


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