Django Unchained: “I Like the Way You Die, Boy!”

27 Dec
DJANGO UNCHAINED

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Django Unchained is an exercise in restraint for Quentin Tarantino.  Although some scenes of the film rival the bloodiest that Tarantino captured on film in the past, the fact remains that Django, like many of Tarantino’s films, lacks the high levels of violence typical of your Kill Bill or your Reservoir Dogs.  We meet Django (Jamie Foxx) as he is being transported between plantations.  The entrance of an eccentric alleged dentist, Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, allows Django a chance at tasting freedom and the possibility of being reunited with his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  Waltz, channeling his Hans Landa that made Inglourious Basterds a delight, makes a charming bounty hunter seeking three overseers whom he determines Django can identify. Django, tasting the possibility of freedom, throws away the tattered blanket covering him, and a pronounced shot of his back, scarred by a whip, fills the screen.  Schultz trains Django in the art of bounty hunting and gunfighting, realizing that Django, as we will see throughout the entirety of the film, is unlike any slave to be found in the South.

On one of their first bounty hunts together, Schultz offers Django a beer.  Django shows his delight in tasting the beer, clearly symbolic of his “tasting” freedom for the first time. Django then accompanies Dr. Schultz on a series of bounty hunts, collecting one third of the bounties the men make.  Eventually, Dr. Schultz learns that Broomhilda is likely on a plantation referred to as Candie Land, owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is a known Francophile but cannot speak a word of French.  Dr. Schultz and Django then pose as slavers seeking to buy a “black Hercules” to use for mandingo fighting, the practice of forcing slaves to fight to the death.  DiCaprio plays Candie, his first villain, with an awareness of just how ridiculous his character is.  Naturally, the film peaks with Django fighting for his beloved Broomhilda, though those details are best left undiscussed.

Django’s discovery of how good he is at killing can be summed up in one line from the film: “Killing white people for money? What’s not to like?” It’s that daring, overtly racist yet unforgiving attitude that places what Django is really about in focus. It’s a film about exploring a legacy that has left the U.S. in an eternally divided state, focused on the power of race.  Race is huge in this country and Tarantino’s daring in exploring this issue is commendable.  The fact that he is a white Italian filmmaker trying to make sense of the white black paradigm is good on him, despite many protesting these efforts (Spike Lee among them).

Overall, Django Unchained is a massive effort by Tarantino to continue to outdo himself in terms of story, scale, and retelling history.  For me, Inglourious Basterds wil remain my Tarantino masterpiece.  It will be interesting to see what he will do next, as it seems that his tendency to make films in homage to other films is becoming rather tired. Django Unchained places Tarantino at an artistic crossroads of sorts, and it will be his choice to break free from the chains of his own art, much like Django succeeded in doing within this film.

Rating: B+, for effort and creativity.

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One Response to “Django Unchained: “I Like the Way You Die, Boy!””

  1. CMrok93 December 27, 2012 at 5:52 PM #

    The first hour of Django Unchained is where it is at its strongest. Where it is played out as a buddy western with a pretty simple objective and fun dialogue between Jamie Foxx and the great Christoph Waltz, but by the second hour, it gets even better and darker. Great review.

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