Quentin Tarantino has always been an acquired taste. Even though he’s made less than 10 movies in his career each one of them has found its way to cult status by offending some but fascinating others. Django Unchained is no different, although it will by far be his most polarizing.
Tarantino’s last three films have dealt with not only revenge but also retribution. He started out small in Kill Bill with the Bride taking revenge for the loss of her baby. He once again upped the ante withInglourious Basterds allowing the Jews to take revenge on the Nazis by literally killing Hitler. In Django Unchained it is the slaves who are the underdogs, ready to take revenge on their masters.
Django (the always amazing Jamie Foxx, channeling his inner-Shaft) is a slave set free by the liberal German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) who, in 1858, is one of the few people they encounter that has no problem with equality between races. Schultz needs Django’s help so that he can capture three fugitives. The two very quickly realize they share a bond and a common talent for bounty hunting and decide to partner up.
The chemistry between Waltz and Foxx elevates the entire film. Each plays against type and really shines in their roles. Watching Django go from a scared slave to a badass angel of vengeance is worth the price of admission alone.
Once our characters are established the two must venture off to Mississippi to track down Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) who was sold to the evil slaver Calvin Candie (an epic performance by Leonardo DiCaprio). In order to do that the two must masquerade as slavers in order to get inside the planation.
Here is where things get tricky. At its heart the film is really about the horrors of slavery and taking retribution for those crimes. But in doing so Tarantino simultaneously reinforces and rejects some pretty harsh prejudices. Candie’s attendant Stephen, played with heavy makeup by Samuel L. Jackson, is the epitome of step n’ fetch stereotype that can be hard to watch on screen. Jackson has gone on record with the Los Angeles Times as stating that his character will probably seen as one of the most despised African-American characters in cinematic history.
Tarantino has never been one to hold back and he certainly isn’t restraining himself here. The acts of abuse shown against slaves in the film can be flat out disturbing. But it does serve a purpose. It might help to consider Django a sort of companion piece to Lincoln, also in theaters right now. While the two make unlikely bedfellows they both attempt to tackle the same thing. Lincoln talks, in length, about the horrors of slavery and unjust treatment of African-Americans of the period but never really shows the audience any of it. Django refuses to turn the camera away and has no problem showing you the atrocities.
Odds are you will either love or hate Django, there is very few which will be undecided. Taken as a whole Tarantino has managed to turn Jamie Foxx into the next Outlaw Josey Wales and will more than likely be responsible for a resurgence in modern Westerns. There is no doubt that Tarantino has once more created an epic with larger than life characters. Only time will tell whether or not the prejudices he has brought to light help or hurt modern pop culture.
In theaters December 25th, watch the trailer.