Christmas with Quentin – Django Unchained

I’ve been waiting for this film since it was first announced. Tarantino had been saying for years that he wanted to do a spaghetti western. He reached new heights with Inglorious Basterds. That film blew me away. It was a blood soaked revisionist revenge fantasy, the Jews taking the power back from the Nazis. This time around African Americans get their revenge on slavery and slave owners. Love or hate Tarantino, the man knows how to make films that will enrage or entertain, depending on who you are.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard of this film and have a general idea of the plot. It’s 1858 Texas. Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave freed from captivity by Dr. King Schultz (Cristoph Waltz). Schultz is a Doc Holliday-esque former dentist and current bounty killer. Schultz is after the Brittle Brothers who at one point held Django. Django knows what the Brittle Brothers look like, Schultz does not. A deal is made. Along the way Schultz trains Django in the ways of gun fighting and bounty killing. After the Brittle Brothers are put down, Schultz tells Django since he gave him his freedom, Schultz feels responsible for him and would like to help Django find his wife Broomhilda.

Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is now the property of plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in an amazing sociopathic role). Candie owns a plantation straight out of hell called Candyland. The residents of Candyland include Samuel L. Jackson as the chief house slave named Stephen, and the great Walton Goggins as Billy Crash, plantation guard and trainer of slaves in Mandingo fighting, Candies’ favorite sport. Mandingo fighting is like MMA, except without rules and the fight is to the death. Once Django and Schultz arrive at Candyland, the tension is quickly and steadily escalated. There is one particular scene where you just know the proverbial shackles are about to come off and the mayhem will begin. You will find yourself thinking, “Aww shit, here it comes…” And it comes, hard.

I’m not going to tell you more plot details. I loved this movie. From the vintage Columbia Pictures logo at the beginning to the closing credits, this is a near perfect film. I say near perfect because there were a couple of areas that maybe needed a bit more detail, but nothing that takes away from the film overall. Tarantino’s use of character actors is inspired. Bruce Dern, Don Johnson, and James Remar are but a few. For me, Walton Goggins of the TV series Justified and formerly of The Shield, was one of the best things about the film. His role of Billy Crash needed more screen time. (Never fear, season 4 of Justified starts in less than two weeks and Goggins returns as the scenery chewing Boyd Crowder.)

As I said before, some people love Tarantino, others hate him. I think he is one of the best filmmakers working in Hollywood today, also probably the most uncompromising. The subject of slavery needs to be shown for what it was – ugly, degrading, and brutal are but a few words you could use to describe it. Tarantino has said it’s been sugar coated in film too many times and he is right. He rubs a piece of America’s darkest history right in our faces. We need to remember. I for one am thrilled to have a history lesson taught by Professor Tarantino.

Dave Wahlman