Django Unchained is a cowboy movie with a Tarantino-esque twist. That itself should make for a deadly combo. This much awaited pre civil war slavery era film was released on Christmas Day in 2012 and has had its fair share of bouquets and brickbats; in fact it has been nominated for five Academy Awards, and heaps of criticism for the use of the ‘N’ word, and for Tarantino’s ‘belittling’ of slavery.
It depicts the story of a freed slave, Django (portrayed by Jamie Foxx) who teams up with dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (played by Christopher Waltz). The bounty hunter wants to find the outlawed Brittle brothers, who are ruthless killers, working for a plantation owner. The newly freed slave is in search of his true love, his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The bounty hunter rescues Django by purchasing him from the Speck brothers, from among a long line of slaves walking barefoot and half clothed through the desolate winter landscape of the South. Schultz promises Django a part of the bounty in exchange for his help, and also agrees to help in his quest for Broomhilda.
Django’s wife is in the employment of the notorious Calvin Candie (Leo Di Caprio), on his plantation in rural Mississippi, named Candyland. However, things are not exactly a bed of roses when they manage to infiltrate the plantation eventually. They have to witness the killing of a slave who dared to try to escape; the method: being torn apart by dogs. Their interest in Broomhilda arouses suspicion in Candie’s man Friday Stephen (brilliantly portrayed by Samuel L Jackson), and Candie demands an absurd sum of $12,000 for her release. Schultz agrees and pays up, but kills him after Candie signs the certificate of freedom for her. Schultz is eventually killed by the plantation owner’s men and Django has no option but to surrender. Stephen sends Django off to a mine, to be worked to his death, with the blessings of Candie’s sister Lara. But on the way he manages to convince the slave drivers that he is a bounty hunter by showing them a handbill from a previous kill. The moment they free him, Django kills the slave drivers.
Django rushes back to the plantation with the dynamite he grabs from the slave drivers and plants it in the mansion. He finds Broomhilda’s certificate of freedom on Schultz’s body and waits for the mourning party to return from Candie’s funeral. Then he kills them all and frees the slaves, save Stephen. He runs away with Broomhilda leaving Stephen (who he shoots in the knees) to suffer and finally die when the mansion explodes. To create the ambiance of the Deep South, the film opens with rolling credits and classic Western music, which is heard throughout the film, at times interspersed with modern rap, creating an eccentric but amusing mix of traditional and modernistic music.
The cast is pretty star studded, with the likes of Foxx, Waltz and Di Caprio, all of whom have given brilliant performances. Di Caprio is especially brilliant as the ruthless plantation owner who coerces his female slaves into prostitution and the male slaves into fighting each other to the death even in a game he calls Mandingo fighting. True to the Tarantino tradition, the movie hinges between absurd, and edge of the seat, must-see thriller. The usual staples of revenge, violence, controversy and debatable humor are present in the movie in abundance.
Fans of Quentin Tarantino who enjoyed his earlier masterpieces like Pulp Fiction, Inglorious Bastards and the like, will not be disappointed with this effort. If you don’t appreciate the grotesque, however, you may want to give this a pass.