Set a few years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, Django Unchained focuses on bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on his quest to reunite the newly freed Django (Jamie Foxx) with his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
After being purchased by separate procurers at a slave auction in Greenville, Mississippi, Broomhilda finds herself as a comfort-girl for Mandingo fighters on Calvin Candie’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) plantation, Candyland. Schultz and Django team-up to save her from Candyland and after 165 minutes of witty banter, explosions, blood gushers and gratuitous gun play, Django gets what he came for.
Cited as “the new film by Quentin Tarantino,” Django falls very much in line with the Tarantinian treatment. There is a whole lot of blood, conversation, and homage paying and a meticulously selected soundtrack. Just as its predecessor Inglorious Bastards gave audiences a taste of blood-soaked alternative history, here too we see a play on this motif with a falsified pre-civil-war account.
Tarantino plays on everything from Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles (1974), to Blaxploitation films like Jack Arnold’s Boss Nigger (1975), to Sergio Leone spaghetti-western’s like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).
Swarming with allusion, the trope latent material leaves the plot uncomplicated and the characters stock, giving Tarantino almost too much space to pay tribute to his directorial heroes. This is a simple, action-packed, comedic joy-ride through the pre-emancipated Southern United States.
This is where the questions lie: is slavery an appropriate avenue for a take on Blaxploitation? What about buddy-comedies?
In an interview with VibeTV, director Spike Lee says, “I can’t speak on it ’cause I’m not going to see it. All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”
This is fair considering a Caucasian screenwriter/director used the so-called “N-word” just shy of 90 times, averaging to its use around once per two minute interval. Of course, there is context for it in the film, but one can see Lee’s point: making light of such a dark page in American history takes away from how serious the atrocities of slavery were.
One might conclude that the counter balance is having Django ride around killing over 40 southern white folk. No matter how bloody these deaths might be (and they are quite over the top in terms of blood/gore) dramatizing any atrocity will gather criticism over its controversial nature.
If a viewer can overlook these factors and garner enough of a stomach to wade through the blood, this film is fantastic.
It does what an alternative-history movie should: it diverts from actualities dives straight into the absurd. Both the costuming and scenery are beautiful and authentic. Though at points, it feels there is a lull, this is intentional. It builds tension until the final gunfight, which is explosive and gratuitous.
The conversation is sharp and witty, drawing back (repeatedly) to Tarantino’s “I don’t believe in tipping” scene from Reservoir Dogs (1992).
Despite its controversial nature and the sense that the screenwriter was perhaps a little too liberal with some devices, the film is sensational. Rated 18A, it will be in theatres until Jan. 17.