I have never been a massive fan of Tarantino movies or Westerns in general, so was unsure if I would enjoy Django Unchained. However the action packed story and compelling characters quickly drew me into the story, and from that point on there was no looking back.
It is 1858 and a group of slaves are being transported through woodland after being purchased by the Speck Brothers. Along the way they meet the somewhat eccentric German dentist Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who offers to buy a slave from them. He selects Django (Jamie Foxx), but the brothers are unwilling to sell, not trusting the German with his fancy words and posh clothing. They are about to shoot him when Schultz pulls a gun on them, shooting them dead, taking Django and freeing the rest.
Schultz quickly frees Django revealing that his is against slavery, and also that he is no longer a practicing dentist and has taken up the more profitable career of bounty hunting. He has been seeking Django as he has worked on a plantation belonging to the Brittle brothers, whom have a bounty placed on them, and he needs someone that knows what they look like to point them out to him.
While on their travels Django says he is been sold away from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and Schultz agrees that if Django helps him track down his bounties he will in return assist Django in finding his wife. After the successful killing of the brothers, the pair set off to locate Broomhilda, who they find belongs to a house owned by brutal slave master Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). They then must devise a plan to legally obtain Django’s wife in order to set her free.
Masquerading as a businessman and his freed, black associate, Schultz and Django offer to buy a ‘fighting nigger’ from Candie at a ridiculous price, after which, when Candie is feeling sufficiently kind to his guests, they will barter for Broomhilda. The plan goes smoothly until, while at the Candyland mansion, Calvin’s cunning elderly black advisor, slave and friend Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) uncovers the plot. This is when things go sour and Django must take matters into his own hands in order to rescue the damsel in distress.
While Jamie Foxx is great as Django, to me there are three standout characters: First off Leonardo DiCaprio is charming yet deliciously evil and sadistic as Calvin Candie. Then providing some genuine laughs, Samuel L Jackson is the cheeky, slightly senile and conniving old house slave Stephen, and finally wrapping up my personal standout trio, Christoph Waltz steals the show as the flamboyant, witty, dentist-come-bounty-hunter Dr. King Schultz.
While Jamie Foxx gets no real chance to stretch his acting muscles until relatively late on in the movie, DiCaprio, Jackson and Waltz do the bulk of the legwork with a tangible panache, leaving you wishing that the movie would have explored the characters even more.
One of the great things about the movie is that the horrors are offset by comedy: For example a scene featuring the Ku Klux Klan – which should be a profoundly dark and evil moment, is infinitely lightened by a scene featuring the Klan complaining about the sheets that go on their heads and how they are badly made (even causing one member to take offence and flounce off home). You genuinely laugh at this. You’re laughing at the Ku Klux Klan’s mundane problems, you know this, you know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help it! Similarly when Stephen, who I must remind you is an elderly black man, starts being as racist as his white slave master, becoming incensed that he is allowing Django to sleep in the ‘big house’, it is hilarious. Almost endearingly so!
One thing I did notice early on (and this IS just me being picky) is how much blood there was flying around when people got shot, and how a single bullet would lift someone off their feet and throw them backwards…I’ve seen that episode of Mythbusters, this wouldn’t happen! But it certainly works in the context of the epic western movie that is Django Unchained. Plus it’s a Quentin Tarantino picture – what can you do!
Also I’d like to touch upon the use of the word ‘nigger’. While I can understand why people may be offended by it or how much it is used, in the context of the movie and the location and period of time it is set in, I think the use of the word is justified and any cutting back on or censorship of the word would just be pandering to the modern day audience who aren’t as comfortable with the word as they were back then.
It boils down to whether you would be offended by Django Unchained or not. Yes it is racist, it is stylised, it is gory and bloody, but if these points do not bother you then you will find the movie is an infinitely enjoyable, funny and action packed straightforward Western adventure story.