Welcome to A-Z Movie Reviews. Every Sunday, for the next several months, I will be posting a review of a film in my home movie collection. How it works is, I will be reviewing movies in alphabetical order until I get to the letter Z (Yes, I do have a film that ends in Z). Now I realize there are many ways to alphabetize a film collection but this is mine so don’t judge me. This is simply for fun.
I enjoy Quentin Tarantino films. I know he is a controversial director because he often pushes the limits with his movies, but his creativity knows no bounds. What he did with Django Unchained is a perfect example.
What it’s about:
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.
Django Unchained is a modern take on what is known as the “spaghetti Western.” For those unfamiliar with the term, spaghetti westerns were Italian-made Western films done in the 1960s and 1970s. Their stark depictions of the Old West have made them some of the most popular Westerns ever created. Unlike American westerns of that era, which were generally family-friendly entertainment starring “white hat” hero cowboys, the Italian Westerns embraced the harshness of the Old West. They also pushed beyond American standards of violence, featuring characters who possessed both heroic and villainous traits.
Django played by Jamie Foxx, is freed by kind German dentist Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz). The twist with Dr. Schultz is, he is actually a bounty hunter. In exchange for Django’s freedom, he enlists him to catch three criminals who just so happen to work at the plantation where Django and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) were before being separated.
Django tells Dr. Schultz about his wife and the two come up with an elaborate plan to rescue her from the Candyland plantation in Mississippi which is owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is a huge sociopath. All seems well until their plan is foiled by Calvin’s right hand man Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). What happens after this is quite um… bloody and yeah, it’s all downhill from there.
There are so many things I enjoy about this film. I know this story is controversial because of the material but I like that. Slavery is not a soft subject so it shouldn’t be treated as such. If this film makes you uncomfortable when you watch it, that’s good. You should feel uncomfortable. I would think it was weird if it didn’t bother you to see things like mandingo fights which were definitely a real thing back then. Quentin Tarantino does not pull any punches with this film at all.
Another thing I loved about this film was the set design. I am a sucker for great set design and the late Michael Riva’s production design in this film was beautiful. That probably sounds weird to say about a film like this one but it’s true. Every piece of scenery was incredible, and you felt the emotion that each location should have evoked. One scene that stands out to me is when Django and Dr. Schultz get to Mississippi. There is just such a sadness to it. The world is different there. There are scenes of slaves being walked around an auction block, it’s dark and dingy and muddy and you just feel the despair. That was captured in such a phenomenal way.
Costumes always make any film because it adds to the characters even more. Costume designer Sharen Davis did an amazing job with everyone’s looks. Not only was she responsible for creating all these individual looks for the main cast, but she also had to create looks for all the extras. When I watched the special features on my Blu-ray, it was so interesting to hear that she designed all of the costumes for the slaves based on what plantation they were on. It was so enlightening to hear her process.
Overall, Django Unchained is an entertaining film but it is also one that is eye-opening. I’ll admit it’s a little long, but I think everyone knows Quentin Tarantino makes long films. He believes in getting the full story told and if he needs almost 3 hours to do it, so be it. Christopher Nolan and David Fincher do the same thing. Obviously, there are moments when the film is a little on the violent side but, when you look past all of that, you can appreciate it for the great film that it is.