Summary: Bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees Django (Jaime Foxx) for him to point out three overseers he is ordered to kill. Quickly realizing Django has a knack for shooting, Schultz hires Django as his right-hand man. Django only agrees if Schultz will help him rescue his enslaved wife, Bromhilda (Kerry Washington).
Review: The antebellum was a heinous time in American history, yet, it is a sacred era. Anyone who touches slavery on screen will get a cynical side-eye (Beloved, Amistad, Queen). In this review, I will not argue the trite debate whether the film is or isn’t that hot-button word: racist. Racism is the Central Park Five, the execution of Troy Davis and wannabe cops who “stand their ground” to unarmed Black boys — not a Hollywood film, which is meant for entertainment and includes some of the most respected and intelligent Black actors of today. My perspective: Is Django Unchained a good or bad film? Neither — Quentin Tarantino’s seventh film is phenomenal.
Surprisingly historically correct for Hollywood, the pre-Civil War western is a serious take on the cruelty of slavery, but not without Tarantino’s signature style: sensitive, bloody, witty, comedic and respectful in all of the right places. The Oscar winner authentically breathes life into characters that have morphed into spectacles on the big screen over the years — from the slave master to the slave, Tarantino dug for depth. He found a new way to tell a story that should never be dismissed. The Black characters aren’t the docile “Negros” we’ve seen in the past. These are fully realized roles and when they are unchained, the tables turn.
The casting of Django Unchained is perfect. Jaime Foxx gives the best performance of his career since Ray. Leonardo DiCarpio as Master Calvin Candie is like we have never seen him before. Kerry Washington is core-shaking, disturbingly letting out the roars of whippings and, again, not the stereotypical mammy, maid or temptress that Black women are relegated to in films about the antebellum South. Christopher Waltz as a smooth-talking bounty hunter provides much needed comic relief and the grace in which he handles King Schultz will certainly shower him with awards. But the king of the show (and the most controversial) is Samuel L. Jackson as a “house Negro” named Stephen. The fervor Jackson brought to the character is historically correct and wonderfully three-dimensional. Cry me a river to anyone complaining Jackson is playing a house Negro, see the film before judging — he is a inventive actor whose résumé speaks for itself. Damn it — give Samuel L. Jackson his Oscar!
Over the years, Tarantino has been criticized for his use of the N-word. Well, Tarantino didn’t hold back this time around — the N-word is said approximately 108 times in the two hours and 45 minutes. Every main character spat the racial slur with the exception of Kerry Washington. While I could go without hearing the N-word ever again in movies (I love that Nicole Kidman refused to say the word in The Paperboy), as a writer, Tarantino wrote characters, not historical figures (although it is important to note the N-word was used more during Jim Crow, not the Antebellum South).
Django Unchained thunders across the big screen as a fireball of celluloid flawlessness. Part western, part Black exploitation but absolutely stunning film-making, it’s Quentin Tarantino’s greatest work since Pulp Fiction and, undoubtedly, the best film of 2012.
Django Unchained is in theaters December 25.