Almost three years after Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino has returned with western/revenge flick Django Unchained. And it’s certainly an unleashed and fantastic Tarantino that we have received.
Django, played fantastically by Jamie Foxx, is a former slave who, with the help of Christoph Waltz’s lovable Dr. King Schultz, are on a quest to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, from the evil Calvin Candie, the detestable Leonardo DiCaprio.
Now, what Tarantino does here isn’t too surprising. He juggles multiple tones and even multiple genres in what’s ultimately an ode to the spaghetti western with a heavy nod toward revenge flicks. We have a great deal of light hearted comedy mixed with the horrors of slavery and the over-the-top action and violence that Tarantino is known for. We have revenge, western and action all accounted for. It’s all a giant melting pot and Tarantino does well mixing everything up like some kind of fantastic soup.
One of the best examples of this is having violence while showing the violence of slavery. He switches to an over-the-top style for many of the violent encounters the heroes engage in and then switches gears to a more grounded and terrifying version of violence when showing the horrors of slavery. It’s brutal and devastating. In fact, this may be one of the more disturbing portrayals of slavery in quite some time. It also feels brutally honest. A lot of movies about slavery focus on the good guy sticking up for or ending those atrocities. Here, it’s almost as if Tarantino is holding a mirror up and just showing how terrifying it could have been. I say could because this is all still fictionalized.
It’s not all disgustingly depressing though, as there’s quite a bit of humor to liven things up. A good portion of this comes from Waltz’s performance. It was so hard to hate him as a Nazi “Jew-hunter” in Inglourious Basterds and it’s just a pleasure to watch him revel here. A good deal of the humor comes from Tarantino’s patented dialogue as well, which is near its best here. It’s a joy to listen to — it’s as simple as that. And sure, Tarantino may dip into the Mexican stand-off well he dipped into so much with Inglourious but I’ll be damned if they aren’t tense and, ultimately, entertaining.
The one thing that slightly bothered me is that it feels like it has two endings. Now, this “first ending” I’m imagining isn’t the real ending and I know that. There’s a crescendo moment building that ends and it seems like it could be a fantastic ending for the film, but it’s not the real ending. It’s an odd experience and I’m not sure whether that’s the filmmakers fault or if it’s tagged to a certain performance. Speaking of performances, I’d be crazy not to mention some of the scene-stealing Samuel L. Jackson takes upon himself.
In the end, Tarantino has made one of the finest films of the year. It’s entertaining, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s funny and it’s a grand time. Of course, some may find the over-the-top violence, the subject matter and the barrage of n-words off putting. But it really wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without all of that, now would it?