Leave it to Quentin Tarantino to turn another genre on its head. This time the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone. Oh how the Man With No Name would feel if he had to ride next to a black freed slave in the south. (He wouldn’t, to be honest, but this is why Tarantino is Tarantino – he does this because he can). This is a buddy revenge flick for the ages and leave it to the master of violence to show them the way.
The great thing about Tarantino’s violence is his ability to shoot a scene in such an in your face manner that he manages to deflect the actual horror of the scene. Sure there are moments of violence, but he shies away from it just enough, to get you to look at it, appreciate why he showed it, and makes you want to look at it again. He never, in all his films, exploits his violence of the sake of violence, there’s always something behind a gory shot that never makes you want to look away (well maybe for just a second, before you’re laughing your ass off at it).
Jamie Foxx is perfect as Django, a freed slave who’s out for revenge against the plantation owner that “bought” his wife. He’s out for blood and Foxx’s character makes a perfect balancing act between the enraged hurt he feels in his heart, body and soul and the calm, cool, collective character he has to bring about in himself to get back his on true love.
But Christoph Waltz, his partner in his quest for vengeance one ups him better. His character of sly trickery with a devilish smile and a fast moving gun is the perfect yin to Foxx’s yang. His performance is nothing short of brilliant and even tops his deranged Col. Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.
Leonardo DiCaprio, as the plantation owner that “owns” Django’s one true love revels with sadistic glee at playing Calvin Candie. The intensity Leo brings to all his performances is there but so is a slight touch of sadistic hilarity. (The scene with the bloody hand, now knowing that it was his real blood after smashing his hand onto some glass, makes that moment in the film all the more spectacular). There’s no doubt Tarantino had great fun casting and filming Leo and managing to show a side of him that audiences have not yet seen, till now.
The fourth great performance in this film belongs to Samuel L. Jackson, who just owned the film right when he walks onto the screen. His presence just sucks the air out of everything in the room, he’s just that good. Jackson’s “Stephen” is so menacing and devious, that as much as you want to him get his due, you kinda also wish he gets away with it all just because he’s just too good to want to let go. This is where Tarantino knows his audience all too well, because Stephen is just the character that you hate to love but you just can’t help it. And you know in the end, he has to die but Tarantino does it in such a way that you’ll end up clapping in the last moment you see him.
Django Unchained has restored my faith in the “fun” of Tarantino’s movies. He’s still got the chops to school you in film history and at the same time innovate you with the multitudes of tricks up his sleeve to make a film that will forever be studied in film school for years to come.