Django is Dfantastic!
One of my first thoughts after seeing Django Unchained was, “Wow, I did my 2012 Top Ten list way too early!” And although I’d have to shoehorn pretty hard to make it fit into a list of “genre” films including the likes of The Woman in Black and V/H/S, I assure you that the amount of gore alone qualifies it for inclusion on a “horror entertainment” website.
I’m not much of an American history buff, but I imagine Django Unchained also belongs in the “fantasy” category. At the very least, it’s a little piece of revisionist history ala writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s last movie, Inglorious Basterds. And for an exploitation-inspired, revenge-driven spaghetti western, it’s also remarkably sweet.
I’ve heard Tarantino insist that at their heart, Django Unchained and his earlier pair of Kill Bill movies are love stories. That’s a tough claim to swallow when you’re experiencing such a cinematic bloodbath, but it rings true for me in this case. The title of the movie implies something far more sensational than a freed slave simply trying to find and rescue his still-imprisoned wife.
But that’s not even the best part of the movie. For me, the first act is as perfect as any movie I’ve seen this year. Two years before the civil war, German bounty hunter Dr. King Schulz (the amazing Christoph Waltz) promises slave Django (Jamie Foxx) freedom and $75 in return for helping him identify three brothers for whom he carries a warrant, “wanted dead or alive”.
The conclusion of this act comes perhaps a little sooner than expected, but is so rich with characterization and storytelling, that it’s what I’ll remember longest about Django Unchained. In essence, we’re discovering a new world along with Django, which largely includes learning what the mysterious Dr. Schultz has (literally) up his sleeve.
The movie then slows down to a much more deliberate pace before an action-packed conclusion that bookends the story perfectly. In this middle part, the plot to rescue Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) unfolds as a clever con game. But with Tarantino at the helm, you know it’s ultimately going to explode in violence. And when you think about it, it’s the only way a movie like this could satisfactorily end.
Again, like Django, we don’t necessarily know what Dr. Schultz (or Tarantino) is up to. We’re told only enough information to pique our interest. Then we get to sit back and squirm. By the time a nearly unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson appears as Stephen, the personal servant (and perhaps something more) to wealthy plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), stereotypes are turned on their ears and we don’t know what to expect next.
Django Unchained is Tarantino at his best. It’s filled with hilarious moments and a cast full of recognizable faces from the movies that inspired him. With Don Johnson not only in a featured role, but receiving highlighted notice in the opening credits, you know you’ve entered a special world. And though in this world bodies explode with repeated gunshots and blood sprays like paint, there also exists what is perhaps his most personal and approachable story yet. I loved it.