In the late 1850s, a bounty hunter called Doctor King Schultz (Christophe Waltz) scouts out a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx) and subsequently purchases him to help find some men that he’s looking for. After finding these men, Django wants to find his wife, Broomhilda ‘Hilde’ Von Shaft (Kerry Washington). They were sold at the same auction, but separately due to trying to escape. Schultz offers Django his help if he stays with him to be his bounty hunting partner. After some time, they hear that she was sold to a plantation in Mississippi and they devise a plan to extract her, using cunning, deceit and tact.
Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) has decided to take a whack at history again, swapping swastikas for the white robes/pointed hats and swapping propaganda posters for whips but also trading oppressed jews for enslaved black people. Though this isn’t your classic doom and gloom slavery drama. This is a love story about a freed slave called Django (Foxx) who goes in search of his long-lost wife Broomhilda (Washington) and eventually tracks her to Candieland where we meet the film’s villain, Calvin Candie or Monsieur Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he likes to be called, though he doesn’t speak French.
Django Unchained felt like a comic book movie set in the South in the way it was filmed. It’s brutal yet outrageously amusing, especially with the scene with the Ku Klux Klan when there’s a whole fiasco of “did anybody bring any extra bags?” because the member’s wife who had made the masks had the cut the holes to small and nobody could see. Tarantino has made light of a topic that shouldn’t be made fun of, at the same time, I laughed out loud. This took place after our two heroes dispatched of three guys on the plantation of Big Daddy (Don Johnson) who relishes in his cameo of a racist slave-owning Mississippian. In the later acts, comic violence felt very Kick-Ass or even Kingsman in the way that in classic Tarantino-style, it’s truly overkill.
The movie is even better than Inglorious Bastards, and I bloody loved that movie. A fortuitous turn of events brings former-Dentist Dr Schultz and Django together on a shere cold night where he frees Django after sweet talking and killing his transporters, but not before using flawless English that made them sound stupid as they tell him “speak English god dammit.” He’s using words that have more than one syllable in the South, thus these transporters AKA The Speck Brothers (James Russo & James Remar) lose the temper pretty damn quickly as when the doctor says “My good man, did you simply get carried away with your dramatic gesture, or are you pointing your weapon at me with lethal intention?” which is quickly followed by the sound of shots, a leg crunching and the sound of an injured horse.
King gives Django a taste of life without the lynch or the lash, but is surprised to find out that Django is married to a German, Broomhilda (Washington), a name given to her by her German owners. She is working at the plantation Candieland in Mississippi State, owned by racist and sadist Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Leo gives a masterclass performance, and it’s a pity he wasn’t even nominated by the Academy for it. When Schultz mentions Candieland to Django, he perks up, as there isn’t a slave who hasn’t heard of Candieland. One does not simply walk into Candieland. Django muster get her out he won’t be content until she is free and retribution has been taken against her oppressor.
Candie loves humiliating his slaves, but something he loves more is money. His sadism is evident when he revels in the barbaric nature of Mandingo fighting, watching two hulking black men fight to the death as well when he was ready to cave Broomhida’s skull in with a hammer. He has this southern etiquette with a Cheshire cat ear-to-ear grin of yellow teeth, and I thought yellow teeth was British stereotype. Or was that the playing of cricket? But what Candie hates most of all, is being outdone in his own home. And he doesn’t take to Django in that regard. It takes a word from Head House Slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) to set Candie on the right course. A course to rumble King and Django on the real reason they came to Candieland.
Samuel L. Jackson (Avengers) steals the whole motherfucking movie. His performance as Stephen is groundbreaking and he makes you want to hate him. At times he is scary to look at such as when Quentin zooms on his face. There’s no subtle way of putting this. Stephen is the white man’s bitch. He’s the Uncle Tom, utterly and unwaveringly loyal to his white master. With a haunting look, Boo Radley-esque creepiness to him and a relish of saying the N-word more aggressively than every white character in the whole film, Stephen is one of the best written characters of any movie I have ever seen. Tarantino has taken “The Head House Slave being a suck up” archetype and turned the notch up to one thousand. Django is posing as a Mandingo expert but Stephen’s personality and persona sickens him due to his disposition to treat Calvin like they’re best of friends.
The 2013 movie is jaw-dropping: from the great set pieces to the excellent character performances and even to the excellent soundtrack. But I am most fond of how they represented slavery. Sure the movie had comedic elements as in such lines from Django “Kill white folks and they pay you for it? What’s not to like?” or even the Ku Klux Klan scene with Jonah Hill and Don Johnson. That being said, Quentin hasn’t shied away from the brutal nature of slavery. He shoves it under your very nose. Slavery is a topic that many choose not to talk about. Not just in Hollywood but in all walks of life. It’s still too uncomfortable for a lot of people to address. It makes people nervous. In the UK, we won’t even talk about The British Empire because when we do, people begin to feel itchy and then it’s time to mop our brows. In Hollywood, movies like this tend to create a swirling shitstorm and it’s just hassle that nobody wants. But when we do get films like this, it makes for an interesting turn of events.
Django Unchained is not another grim slavery drama, though it does have times of outright grit and hard-to-watch scenes, such as the Mandingo fighting where we see Franco Nero in his cameo role as Amerigo Vessepi. There was also another uncomfortable scene where a slave who was no longer worth anything to Candie, is mauled to death by dogs. This film does the concept of slavery justice though historical inaccuracies are often nitpicked by history buffs. Historical inaccuracies in a Hollywood movie? In other news, water is wet. Oh, the horror!! With a great ensemble cast, excellent camerawork and a stellar soundtrack, this is a must watch period slavery drama for film fans and film casuals alike.