In Quentin Tarintino’s latest film, Django Unchained, the director pays homage toward the spaghetti westerns of the 60s while also portraying the brutality of slave culture.
The titular character, Django, played by Jamie Foxx, is freed by Dr. Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz. Schultz, an eccentric and oddly humanitarian bounty hunter, uses Django to identify three men he is contracted to kill.
Django, growing a penchant for bounty hunting, teams with Dr .Schultz a final time for a covert mission: to save Django’s wife from Candy Land, where the morally ambiguous Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, runs a to-the-death slave fighting circuit.
Christoph Waltz is excellent in this film. The other side of the coin to his character from Inglorious Basterds, Colonel Hans Landa, Dr. Schultz is both loveable and extremely threatening at the same time.
“I kill people and sell the corpses for cash” he tells Django when he introduces him to his trade, yet despite his honesty toward his profession, Schultz only kills people with a prize on their head and can’t stand the poor treatment of slaves or any innocent.
This leads to some spectacularly tense moments when Calvin Candie is introduced later in the movie.
Django is one of the few movies where DiCaprio has not received top billing and is also one of the exceptions where he plays an antagonist.
DiCaprio invests a lot into this character.
In an intense scene he accidentally cuts his hand on glass and, rather than breaking character, incorporates it into his performance.
Unfortunately, the great performances by Waltz and DiCaprio overshadow Foxx’s, making the main character of the film almost mute, which is a shame.
Tarintino sets up some beautiful shots throughout the film.
Blood from exaggerated squibs splatter against rows of cotton.
Long establishing shots of snow topped mountain passes resemble the scenery of Jeremiah Johnson and the patient wide shots that Sergio Leone was known for in his spaghetti westerns.
Tarintino uses his attention to other films to mime a villainous lynch mobs descent down a hillside from D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, only to turn the mob into a group of infighting buffoons soon after.
Giving Tarintino’s insensitive use of racial slurs in his characters’ conversation, like in Reservoir Dogs or his ode to Blaxploitation, Jackie Brown, there has been concern that his approach to slave culture would be politically incorrect.
Spike Lee, the African-American filmmaker behind the Malcolm X biopic, refused to see the film.
In an interview with VibeTV Lee said, “All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film. That’s the only thing I’m gonna say.”
If Spike Lee does see the film, he would find that Tarintino approaches slave culture very carefully and much more maturely than in his previous films.
He does not use the ‘n’ word in any other tense than what would be appropriate[MB1] to the films’ setting: the South two years before the Civil War.
The argument, given the setting, is reminiscent of when the censored version of Tom Sawyer was released.
Any other Tarintino film would be barely affected by the removal of racial slurs from the dialogue, but this movie would suffer from it in its portrayal of southern culture.
This fact alone makes it clear that Tarintino has grown as a filmmaker.
Django Unchained is another solid film from Tarintino, but it also seems like a more patient one.
Spike Lee should change his mind.
He’s missing out on a great movie.