- Actor(s): Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. jackson
- Title: Django Unchained
- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- Type: Spaghetti Western
- Website: http://unchainedmovie.com
Quentin Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western Blockbuster film Django Unchained is pure genius in its ability to evoke tense emotions from its viewers. They say one of the greatest indications of a well-produced picture is its ability to cause its audience to feel. Whether your ancestors were slaves or your ancestors were masters there is certainly very sensitive material throughout the movie. We can applaud Tarantino’s dedication to the genre, Jamie Foxx’s inevitably classic black cowboy rendition, or Leonardo DiCaprio’s transformation into a shameless plantation owner however it’s the juxtaposition of our countries bitter history and the justice that wasn’t served until hundreds of years later that makes Django worth watching.
In the midst of all of the aforementioned elements you get a paradoxical masterpiece of a role from Samuel L. Jackson as a house slave more loyal to his master than his own race, that will either provoke nervous laughter, or a complete cringe each time he delivers a line. Jackson’s character sums up the entire experience of the movie as a whole as well: it’s a little funny to see how idiotic the pre-tenses of this society were, yet it’s still startling to realize this history is authentic.
Tarantino places great focus on the reaction of both black and whites alike that had never seen a “negro,” on a horse in their lives. Django’s character is an epic hero in the sense that his people have been enslaved for hundreds of years however he is more masterful than any other character in the movie. Jamie Foxx brings wittiness, composure, grace, honor and dignity to the perception of the slave, and in this still captures the battered mental state of such a traumatic experience. Django is a natural dead-on shooter, which places him in great contrast to the notion that blacks were born to be only as serviceable as animals. The more we get to know Django we see that while he may be less educated (diction wise) than the whites who enslaved him, hes eager to obtain more knowledge and get on the same level as them. We see this best through dialogue as Django explains he's "unsure," if he is positive because he doesn't know what positive is. Soon after he'd confirm his newfound understanding of the concept, observing, "I'm positive he's dead." As great as his line delivery is, it's Foxx's ability to capture great emotion in the things he doesn't say that take his character to the next level.
Christopher Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, a role, which also carries great magnitude in its morals. On one hand you have a man killing other men for money, which happen to be criminals, yet his true intention is to make a fortune. Schultz is a stone cold killer, who we see as the movie goes on is more emotionally conflicted than Django whose been estranged from his wife through the slave trade. Schultz knows slavery is wrong, and in a way aiding Django is his own way of bringing balance to this cruel world. Schultz represents a great deal of whites who understood slavery was inappropriate hundreds of years before it’s abolition but didn’t quite have the power or care enough to fight for it’s extinction. This reminds us of the classic Abraham Lincoln conversation: did he free the slaves, or did he use all means necessary to win a war? Through his relationship with Django, Schultz becomes more attached to the treatment of slaves and begins feeling a strong guilt for their cruel treatment. Towards the end of the movie there is a timeless exchange between Schultz and the head plantation owner in which he explains to him that the Three Musketeers story that the owner shows an appreciation for was written by a black man. Still, Schultz remains a flawed character by the end of the film.
It’s fair to say that had any other actor than Leonardo DiCaprio had been casted to play Calvin J. Candie this film would have easily muddled the line between entertaining and repulsive. DiCaprio finds a way to play a whimsical plantation owner, born into riches and a way of life, who rules over his slaves but means them no true cruelty. As long as he gets his way, there is a sense of civility between the two races, yet he finds entertainment in his position of power, which is sickening but recognizable. One of the best moments for DiCaprio comes as he explains to a slave, whom he has purchased as a sport fighter (imagine dog fighting with slaves) that he is conflicted because he is simply running a business, which the slave is threatening by trying to runaway. This breakdown of logic is powerful, in that it shows how through generations slavery grew to the point of normality it was considered business. Socially, many viewers may find it unbearable how many times the N-Word is thrown around by DiCaprio and his associates however this is by custom the word is used and there are not any truly degrading moments in the movie. The regularity of slavery in it’s lowest acts is shot perfectly by Tarantino in which it is honest but not overbearing and DiCaprio adds definition to this within his motives.
Django Unchained is a breath taking, perplexing film and while it will ruffle many feathers the daringness of Quentin Tarantino deserves great recognition. A runaway slave turned cowboy is the kind of storyline that our society needed to see hundreds of years ago, but it’s better late than never. Top-level acting and a great establishment of character put everything in balance as we thread such a sensitive issue through entertainment.
-Review by Gregory Calvaire