There is not a single thing that could have improved Django Unchained for me. Despite it’s two hour and forty five minute running time, I was riveted and entertained for the entire duration of the film and fully satisfied by its ending.
I was a little fuzzy on the film’s storyline before heading into the theater, but the list of people involved in Django Unchained offered me more than enough reason to see it. Though by no means a Tarantino connoisseur, I have mountains of respect for the director’s genius and am willing to give any of his films a try. The cast couldn’t have been more compelling – Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz are easily two of my favorite working actors and having names like Jamie Foxx, Jonah Hill, and Samuel L. Jackson on the bill doesn’t hurt either. Even Don Johnson had a small role in Django – the fact that he’s found relevant acting work in the year 2012 is a minor miracle in itself.
With so much to recommend Django Unchained, my expectations were high and obviously so were those of many other American film-lovers; it was nearly impossible to find a pair of seats although my husband and I bought tickets for a Saturday morning showing a few weeks after the movie’s initial release. And Django certainly delivered.
En route to the new plantation by which he has been purchased, Django amidst a group of other in-transit slaves is intercepted by Dr. King Schultz, a German bounty hunter fronting as a dentist portrayed by the inimitable Christoph Waltz. Dr. Schultz buys Django’s freedom so that the former slave can identify three plantation workers with sizable bounties on their heads that recently left Django’s old plantation. The freed slave quickly becomes an apprentice to Dr. Schultz, who capitalizes upon rewards offered for the South’s most wanted men with the utmost precision and charm. As the two grow increasingly close via their business operation together, Django reveals to the doctor that he was once married to Broomhilda, a slave woman whose first owners were of German descent. Their exploits as bounty hunters quickly turn into a quest to reunite Django with his wife. Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Calvin Candie, the remorseless owner of the Candyland plantation, known and feared by slaves for its size and severity and current home to Broomhilda.
Django’s newfound freedom provides plenty of opportunities for situational humor which Tarantino exploits to great satisfaction but without being overly obvious or cheesy. Because of the time and distance from slavery afforded modern day Django-viewers, the ridiculousness of the Ku Klu Klan and the absurdity of slave ownership are capitalized upon to great comic effect as well. There is definitely an expectedly gruesome and bloody side to the film, owing to its setting in the times of slavery and the director’s notorious appetite for violence.
But what really makes this movie so satisfying and widely appealing, despite these potentially polarizing elements, are the core motifs of Django’s story – freedom and love. Tarantino’s brilliant storytelling ensures that the search for Django’s wife, which lies at the heart of this film, is never cheesy or forced. And a cast of immensely talented actors only heightens the sense of satisfaction a film like Django Unchained provides.
Dr. Schultz is one of the most compelling and heroic characters in the movie, although not overly so. I’m still cheering Christoph Waltz’s smooth performance, for the audience is consistently impressed with and protective of Dr. Schultz despite his ruthless, murderous day job. Django’s initial taciturnity gives way to an endearingly willful though stoic side of his personality as he becomes accustomed to his freedom and bounty hunting. The development of this character is wisely written and Jamie Foxx does as expertly job of giving life to the film’s namesake. Samuel L Jackson is quite hilarious as the aged Stephen, a head house slave at Candyland with such an unwavering allegiance to Calvin Candie that it seems as though Stephen has forgotten he is black like Django himself. And Leonardo DiCaprio is as excellent as ever, perfectly cast as the powerful Francophile Calvin Candie.
After watching a few other Tarantino films and allowing Django to sink in, I’m fairly confident that its my favorite film from the director’s cannon and it has quite effortlessly slipped into my top favorite films of the year 2012. While I credit much of my ardent appreciation for Django Unchained to Tarantino’s talent, I would be completely remiss not to, once again, acknowledge just how perfect Christoph Waltz’s performance was in this film. I certainly would have enjoyed Django no matter who filled Dr. Schultz’s shoes, but I can’t guarantee it would have been such a flawless film without Waltz’s award-winning talent.