Overview: A bounty hunter helps a freed slave seek vengeance in the pre-Civil War South. The Weinstein Company/Columbia Pictures. 2012. Rated R. 166 Minutes.
The Vengeance and Violence: Django Unchained is a tale of vengeance set during the period of 19th century American slavery. And it’s all about the vengeance. With buckets of blood and hails of bullets, it’s violently arresting and unapologetic. All of writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s signatures are here; the witty and sharp dialogue, rushed camera zooms for dramatic effect, 360 and God’s eye POV shots, eccentric music, references to films of the past, and a cameo by Tarantino himself. Viewers familiar with Tarantino’s previous work will feel at home.
Music Selections: Django Unchained features a selection of music pulled from Western’s and other genres. Tarantino includes music from the original Django, Two Mules for Sister Sara, His Name Was King, and Battle Royale. Each selection is a nice nod of acknowledgement to those films, enhances its respective scene, and attributes to the genre model.
Another choice by Tarantino was to use original and contemporary music as opposed to period specific selections in certain scenes to make them more entertaining and stylish. From Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” and Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” in Pulp Fiction to Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street” in Jackie Brown, Tarantino has always created iconic scenes with popular songs that trigger specific memories when we hear them. A few of those types of scenes are present here. Rick Ross’ “100 Black Coffins,” John Legend’s “Who Did That to You,” and a mash-up of James Brown’s “The Payback” and Tupac Shakur’s “Untouchable” reach that iconic level with their inclusion in pivotal scenes, and hearing these songs in the future will automatically trigger memories of the scenes they accompany.
Waltz and Leo: Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio both provide transformative performances. Waltz, as the bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (a not so sly reference to Dr. Martin Luther King), is the ideal companion to and delivers Tarantino’s dialogue perfectly. He was meant to play roles written by Tarantino.
DiCaprio plays the maniacal slaver Calvin Candie, a role opposite of DiCaprio’s usual type. Candie is pure, deranged evil and DiCaprio commits fully to the extreme. In a key scene at a dinner table, Candie slams his hand on the table as he screams at Django and Schultz. He then proceeds to calmly light a cigar and give an ultimatum to the heroes before rubbing blood in the face of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). What is spectacular about this scene is that DiCaprio cuts his hand when he slams it on the table, but does not hesitate or break character. The camera keeps rolling and as his hand is bleeding profusely he calmly lights the cigar and then rubs his own blood in Broomhilda’s face. That’s commitment.
Final Thoughts: Django Unchained is a raucously entertaining, humorous, and stylish take on the Spaghetti Western. It’s vengeful, violent, bloody, and one of hell of a fun ride.