December 25, 2012 -- “Django Unchained” is a delightful mashup of blaxploitation films like “Shaft” (One of the characters is in this film, a female slave, is named Broomhilda von Shaft. A coincidence? I don't think so.) and spaghetti westerns like “For a Few Dollars More.” The film's title character is based on a spaghetti western named “Django,” played by Franco Nero, who also appears in this film. A coincidence? I don't think so. Director Quentin Tarantino is having fun with us, and we can have fun right along with him, if we are so inclined. I am. Some others are not.
This is the kind of film that will upset a lot of people, white and black. Some white southerners won't like it because it portrays white southerners as evil as the Nazis in Tarantino's 2009 film “Inglourious Basterds.” Some blacks feel it is disrespectful of their ancestors, and the film's dialog includes frequent use of the word “nigger” some 100 times or more, a word avoided by cautious filmmakers. Tarantino is not cautious here. He completely ignores caution in favor of brashness. The film is also a bloodbath, with lots and lots of murders, including a slave torn apart by dogs, replayed over and over.
We first see Django (played by Jamie Foxx of “Dreamgirls”) being marched along with other slaves to meet his new owner. It turns out his new owner isn't really interested in owning him at all. His new owner, King Schultz (Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds”) is only interested in him because he can identify some criminals he is after. Schultz is a bounty hunter. He offers Django a small part of the reward money, and his freedom if he helps get the men Schultz is after. This is a hell of a good deal for a slave in the U.S. in 1858.
Django and Schultz track the men down. It doesn't go as planned, but they do collect the reward. Schultz is so impressed with Django's talents, he offers to work with him some more. In return, he will give Django a bigger share of the bounties, and he will help Django find his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington of “For Colored Girls”). His wife is on one of the biggest plantations in the south, Candyland, owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio of “Inception”).
Schultz comes up with a clever plan to free Django's wife, but it doesn't quite go according to plan, thanks to a clever black servant, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson of “The Avengers”) who figures out the scheme before Schultz can pull it off. The whole enterprise turns into a bloodbath at the end, complete with a very big explosion. It is not subtle, but it works.
In its own way, this is as much a rewrite of history as “Inglourious Basterds” was. Just as some Jews got even with some Germans in that film, blacks get revenge white slave owners in this film. In one scene, Schultz asks Django how he likes the life of a bounty hunter. He says, “Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?” I have a feeling that critics who had no problem with rewriting history in “Inglourious Basterds” may do an about-face in the case of this particular rewriting of history.
In the largest slave rebellion in the south, led by Nat Turner in 1831, probably a smaller total number of white people were killed by blacks at that time than the number of white people killed in this film by one black man, Django. Tarantino has his own sense of justice, which is on display here. Unfortunately in real U.S. history, there was extremely little justice of this sort. There is very little justice of this sort even now. We still have not come nearly far enough down the road to equality. The evil of slavery stains us still.
There were a couple of things that bothered me in this film. The scene which is an extended joke about KKK-type hoods goes on way too long. Also, the relationship between Django and Schultz is not quite believable, but they are great characters, just the same. This film is a lot of fun. It rates a B+.
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