Just like Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained is a revenge period drama replete with Quentin Tarantino’s quintessential gore, violence, and foul language. Jamie Foxx plays the eponymous hero who is freed from slavery by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter who needs Django to identify some vicious slave owners. From there, Schultz trains Django to be a ruthless bounty hunter so they can track down and free Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
Although it takes place in the Deep South, Django’s style and tone resemble Western films. Schultz and Django are a team of cowboys who have excellent shooting skills with a pistol. They’re a capable duo that must infiltrate Calvin Candie’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) plantation and slyly wrangle for Broomhilda’s freedom.
Again, Waltz plays an amusing German character, keeping a lighthearted tone through most of the film and preventing it from becoming a dark revenge story. His prominence in the film makes his nomination as Best Supporting Actor feel like a slap in the face (similar to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “supporting” role in The Master)—especially since Foxx’s role wasn’t good enough to snag a nomination. And while many have cried over DiCaprio’s seeming snub from the Supporting Actor category, it is really Samuel L. Jackson’s despicable slave Stephen who deserved some awards attention. His loyalty to Candie is grossly misguided and is the source of all the trouble in the last 90-odd minutes of the film. (Though I’m still confused as to what his character’s motivations were.)
Tarantino’s Oscar nomination for the screenplay (and Golden Globe win) is mostly deserved. He’s crafted a well-told story that combines exposition with action and never leaves you feeling bored. But fatigue sets into the viewer and the story in the final, indulgent thirty minutes when the story strays into a long sequence of gratuitous violence that does nothing to sustain or expand upon the story. While Basterds is similarly long in length, it doesn’t feel as long because the story feels incomplete until the end. However, Django could have easily been tweaked to have a satisfactory end in the first Candieland shootout.
Length problems aside, Django is another great Tarantino film that will please his fans while also providing amusement for those who find him to be a bit much. There’s surprisingly little gore in the first two hours of the film, making it an easier entry in his oeuvre to stomach. And his controversial use of the n-word in the film feels more apt than scandalous, adding believability to the characters. This film is definitely one of the more entertaining films in the Best Picture category this year.
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