Quentin Tarantino has left his mark on cinema. He’s done crime sagas (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown), paid homage to Hong Kong cinema (Kill Bill), a car chase thriller (Death Proof) and offered his own take on World War Two (Inglorious Basterds). And now he makes his version of one of the long time staples of Hollywood, the Western. Django Unchained is a loving ode to the spaghetti Westerns of the 60s, with shades of Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah accompanied by an Enno Morricone score, with a dash of Mel Brooks’ satire Blazing Saddles thrown in for good measure. The movie is by turns very funny and very violent, including a brutal fight scene and another where dogs tear a man apart. And Tarantino makes it all work.
The story is fairly straightforward. A German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, giving the director another star turn and well deserving of his Oscar win) frees a slave named Django (a terrific Jamie Foxx) to help him find three brothers wanted for murder. These brothers and Django had crossed paths before, when he and his wife, Broomhilda von Schaft (Kerry Washington) were on the run from their owner (Bruce Dern, in a nice cameo appearance). Django aids Schultz in acquiring the bounty, leading to a confrontation with a plantation owner named Big Daddy (Don Johnson) and a hooded posse who can’t quite see out of the masks (one of the film’s more comedic moments). The pair escape the posse in dramatic fashion, and Schultz notes that his new companion has a natural knack for the business as well as handling a gun. He agrees to help Django find his wife, who, it turns out, has been sold to a sadistic plantation owner in Mississippi named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, playing the bad guy with relish). The pair infiltrate the plantation under the guise of slave owners wanting to get into Mandingo fighting, along the way incurring the ire of one of Candie’s hired hands (Justified’s Walter Goggins) and the suspicion of long term slave/caretaker Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Naturally things go wrong in spectacular fashion leading to an explosive finale.
The movie is shot beautifully, with stunning vistas of snow covered mountains and forests along with the sprawling plantations and dusty towns. Equally well framed are the action sequences, from the sight of blood being sprayed across a patch of white flowers to a wild and bloody gunfight that would have been at home in any Peckinpah film (The Wild Bunch came immediately to mind). Tarantino’s trademark humor pervades throughout and never misses. Also pervading throughout the film is Tarantino’s choice of music that makes up the movie’s soundtrack. A mix of traditional Western themes, pop music, rap, and classical, the soundtrack always provides an appropriate background to the scenes on the screen.
With a great cast giving excellent performances, a stunning mix of comedy and action, and a fantastic soundtrack, Django Unchained is a film worthy of your attention. It was easily on of 2012’s best films, and a must own if you’re a Tarantino fan or a fan of the genre. Don’t miss this one.
Django Unchained is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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