Screens & Culture
'Django Unchained': Slavery, Tarantino style
Published: December 19, 2012
Still, there’s little doubt that some will consider a genre exercise that shamelessly mashes up the horrors of American slavery with geeky spectacle as distasteful, if not offensive. Spike Lee, who has loudly decried Tarantino’s unblushing use of the “n-word” in the past, will find little to enjoy here. It’s a valid point of view and one that should inspire some interesting conversations about how we choose to be entertained.
Where Tarantino’s inside-out Western finds success is in the rambunctious bleeding-heart that drives its revenge-minded narrative. Set two years before the Civil War, our titular hero is rescued from slavers by the lethal yet benevolent Schultz. The German-born bounty hunter is in pursuit of the murderous Brittle brothers but has no idea what they look like. Django does, so the two strike a deal: Django gets his freedom and a cut of the bounty if he helps Schultz track the killers down.
But this only accounts for the first hour or so of a nearly three-hour film. Eventually we learn that Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) has been sold as a comfort girl to a Mississippi slaver named Calvin Candie (a creepy Leonardo DiCaprio). Schultz and Django put together an elaborate scheme to buy back Hildy that, unfortunately, is derailed by a wily old house slave named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
Tarantino’s nagging indulgences in discursive plotting, deranged monologues, referential Easter eggs (Sergio Carbucci fans take note) and stylish mayhem come full bloom during the final two reels, and his movie stumbles rather than sprints toward its blood-soaked and surprisingly un-ironic finish line.
For Tarantino fans, none of this will matter. Django Unchained may overstay its welcome and fire a few blanks along the way, but it’s still the kind of infectiously rousing and exuberantly subversive collage of sharp drama, farcical camp, and gonzo violence devotees have come to love.
★★★ ½ (out of 5 stars)
Writ. and dir. Quentin Tarantino; feat. Jamie Foxx, Don Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio (R)