Django Unchained Review
By Rich Cline
Tarantino takes an unusually comical approach to a provocative topic, and the result is as controversial as expected. And also startlingly hilarious. At its core, this is another revenge-themed thriller, but Tarantino's snappy, constantly surprising aproach spirals out to explore racial issues over the past 150 years with humour, drama and, of course, grisly violence.
Set two years before the American Civil War in 1858 Texas, the story centres on bounty hunter Schultz (Waltz), who offers the slave Django (Foxx) what seems like a fantasy job: to work with him to capture white criminals dead or alive. Usually dead. Sure enough, everyone is shocked to see a black man not only riding a horse but carrying a gun. When Django helps find three notorious outlaw brothers, he earns his freedom, and Schultz then offers to help free Django's enslaved wife (Washington). This involves staging an elaborate sting on her owner, the bloodthirsty Mississippi plantation owner Calvin (DiCaprio), who runs a ring of slaves who fight each other to the death. But Calvin's butler Stephen (Jackson) suspects that something is up.
Waltz and Foxx have terrific chemistry in the central roles, with Waltz's lively intelligence bouncing off Foxx's physical and emotional intensity. This gives the film an underlying drive that keeps us engaged through the blood-soaked violence as well as the more slapstick-style sequences (a KKK raid led by Johnson and Hill feels like a lost sequence from Blazing Saddles). But Tarantino's screenplay is beautifully constructed to even out the tone with exciting action, harrowing nastiness and some darkly involving drama. All while quietly exploring the twisted history of racial relations in America.
And it's in the telling details that the film gets under our skin, creating complex characters and re-casting history to challenge our preconceptions. The movie might feel a bit lightweight as it veers randomly from cheesy comedy to grisly horror, but Tarantino is playing with cinema history as well, referencing movies that have tackled these issues along the way. This includes giving several where-are-they-now actors (including Christopher and Wopat) a chance to shine in well-written side roles. And it also lets DiCaprio and Jackson deliver terrific support as against-type characters. A dazzling ride.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Tuesday 25th December 2012
Box Office Worldwide: $162.8M
Distributed by: The Weinstein Co.
Production compaines: The Weinstein Company, Columbia Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 217 Rotten: 30
Cast & Crew
Starring: Jamie Foxx as Django, Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda von Shaft, Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, Walton Goggins as Billy Crash, Dennis Christopher as Leonide Moguy, James Remar as Ace Speck, Don Johnson as Spencer Gordon Bennet, Michael Parks as The LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. Employee, M.C. Gainey as Big John Brittle, Laura Cayouette as Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, David Steen as Mr. Stonesipher, Dana Gourrier as Cora, Nichole Galicia as Sheba, Ato Essandoh as D'Artagnan, Sammi Rotibi as Rodney, Escalante Lundy as Big Fred, Miriam F. Glover as Betina, Franco Nero as Amerigo Vessepi, James Russo as Dicky Speck, Tom Wopat as U.S. Marshall Gill Tatum, Don Stroud as Sheriff Bill Sharp, Russ Tamblyn as Son of a Gunfighter, Jonah Hill as Bag Head #2, Zoë Bell as Tracker, Michael Bowen as Tracker, James Parks as Tracker, Quentin Tarantino as The LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. Employee, John Jarratt as Le Quint Dickie Mining Company Employee