After “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” Quentin Tarantino quickly became the coolest director working in Hollywood. Achieving such early acclaim in his feature film career, Tarantino easily could have come and gone like any other trendy flavor of the month director.
Twenty years subsequent to his big debut though, he is still making some of the most electrifying entertainment the silver screen has ever seen. With his latest film, “Django Unchained,” Tarantino continues to entrench himself as an eternal god among the movie geek community. Mixing together elements of the spaghetti western, blaxploitation, and even some of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles,” this is among Tarantino’s boldest and funniest outings to date.
The film gets its inspiration, but not much else, from the 1966 Western entitled, “Django.” Here Jamie Foxx stars at the title character, who notes that the “D” in his name is silent. As the story begins, the African American Django finds himself in a chain gang of slaves at the mercy of their new owners. In the dead of night appears Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz, a dentist turned bounty hunter who rides a wagon with a giant, eyesore tooth springing on top. Through a brutally hilarious exchange, Schultz comes into possession of Django and grants him his freedom. Django decides to team up with Waltz as a bounty hunter so they might find his lost wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington.
Waltz became an international star after he broke out in Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” for which he additionally won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In his sophomore outing with Tarantino, Waltz finds himself in an incredibly different, but equally engaging, role as the most lethal dental school alumni since Steve Martin in “Little Shop of Horrors.” The friendship that he develops with Django is magnificent on multiple levels. On one hand it’s a meaningful extension of humanity from a white man to a black man. A majority of time though, skin color plays no significant role in their bromace. They’re just a couple of guys that enjoy each other’s company and love getting paid to kill people.
We’ve all heard the saying that there are no small parts, just small actors. This idiom can be applied to all of Tarantino’s movies. Whether somebody has a leading role or a minute long cameo, every actor manages to leave a lasting impression. The entire ensemble shines in “Django Unchained” as our heroes cross paths with a variety of unique characters. Don Johnson is a ton of fun as Big Daddy, a Southern slave owner and Ku Klux Klan leader. His subplot amounts to the single biggest laugh riot of the year as the KKK struggles to see through their masks during a rave.
The scene stealing performance comes from Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, the plantation owner that purchases Django’s beloved wife. This is a man who whores out his female slaves and trains his male slaves to be ruthless warriors that fight to the death for his own amusement. Despite his merciless actions, we can’t help up love every second the charismatic Calvin is on screen. Not since Col. Hans Landa has there been a villain so despicable and unpredictable, yet somehow refined and charming. The fact that he calls his plantation of prostitutes and fighters “Candyland” only makes him an even more delightful SOB. We also get some great work from Tarantino-regular Samuel L. Jackson, finally starting to look is age as Calvin’s dedicated Uncle Tom-like servant.
“Django Unchained” is the perfect movie to follow in the footsteps of “Inglourious Basterds.” Where that film took its revenge out on Nazi evil through gleeful historical inaccuracy, “Django Unchained” is a brazenly exaggerated, wildly fantastic revenge tale against slavery. While “Inglourious Basterds” was a little too out there for some, I thought it was one of the best films of 2009. The same can be said about “Django Unchained,” one of the best films of 2012. Tarantino has hit it out of the park again with his trademark intensity, wit, silliness, pulpiness, inspired references, and undeniable admiration for cinema firing on all cylinders. This is one director that has yet to show any sign of losing his magic touch.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com
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