As Tarantino’s hit Spaghetti Western homage comes to blu-ray on 4/16/13, I take a look back at Django Unchained and the film that inspired it…
Quentin Tarantino has become one of America’s most innovative filmmakers in that he takes his unapologetic love of movies, B movies in particular, and crafts original films out of bits and pieces that pay homage to the movies he loves. No more obvious then his latest ode to the Spaghetti Western, Django Unchained.
This epic story of ex-slave turned bounty hunter, Django (Jaime Foxx) has it’s main character named after the lone gunslinger played by Franco Nero in Sergio Corbucci’s classic Spaghetti Western of the same name. And in case you didn’t get that point, not only does the film open with that 1966 film’s theme song but, sports a delightful cameo from Franco Nero himself. The story opens with a slave, Django being bought in a humorously violent scene by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz ( Christoph Waltz). Schultz promises Django his freedom if the slave will help him track down three wanted men Django has seen but, Schultz has not. But, Django has quite a knack for bounty hunting and after their quarry is gunned down, in a great scene involving a hilariously sleazy Don Johnson as a racist plantation owner, the two team up. But, when Schultz hears of the plight of Django’s German speaking slave wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), he agrees to help him search for and free her. This brings them to the door of a vile plantation owner, who specializes in slave fights, named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Will Django and Schultz be able to rescue his wife from the devious and well armed Candie? A lot of bullets and blood fly before that question gets answered. Django Unchained isn’t perfect. It is definitely a bit too long and the last act could have been structured a bit more efficiently but, Tarantino has always been a bit overindulgent and we let him slide because of all the things he gets right… and because his films are usually so damn entertaining.
And one of the things he gets so right here is the performances out of his cast. Jaime Fox is impressive as Django bringing both a sly humor and a smoldering strength to the slave turned bounty killer. I’m not usually a fan but, he won me over here. Christoph Waltz is an absolute delight as the German bounty hunter with a heart and sense of honor. He gives Tarantino’s crisp and witty dialog vivid life and creates an instantly classic character from the pages of the director’s script. The same could be said of the phenomenal performance by Leonardo DiCaprio whose wonderfully over the top Calvin Candie practically steals the show. DiCaprio is having a blast playing the vicious and sleazy dandy plantation owner whose charm oozes out of every pore but, only to cover up that this snake has fangs filled with venom and he will strike first chance he gets. And if that triple threat isn’t enough, we have a side splitting performance by the great Samuel L. Jackson as Candie’s cantankerous head slave Stephen. Stephen may be a slave but, sometimes his manipulation of Calvin makes you seriously wonder who is really running the Candie Land plantation.
Tarantino once again gives this top notch cast some wonderful Tarantino dialog to work with and, as usual, shoots Django with his trademark luscious camera work. QT’s love of film fills every frame. He skillfully mixes controversial topics such as the horrors of slavery and racism with some very sly and funny humor and peppers it with some blood spattering action and violence. Basically it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie. And that’s exactly what we paid to see. A fiercely entertaining movie with a great supporting cast featuring the likes of Jonah Hill, Bruce Dern, Don Stroud, Russ and Amber Tamblyn, Dennis Christopher, Michael Parks and James Remar to name a few.
A solid 3 and 1/2 pistols
As 1964’s A Fistful Of Dollars was a huge hit, director Sergio Corbucci answered with his own Spaghetti Western in 1966, the classic, Django. Where Sergio Leone filled his films with beautiful sweeping vistas and made good use of the Spanish locations, Corbucci’s look for Django was very nihilistic and bleak as was it’s tone. Filmed in winter, the landscapes are barren and dead and the streets of the town are filled with mud and the sky seems mostly always gray. The films’ heroes are different too as Eastwood’s “Joe” is an opportunist who plays two rival gangs against each other in a dangerous game to profit from both. Franco Nero’s Django, on the other hand, is a former soldier who returns to a small town dragging a coffin behind him and seeking vengeance for the loss of a loved one. Django is a man whose heart and soul have been torn out by the Civil War and the murder of his wife and he doesn’t care how many have to die before he exacts his revenge on the evil Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) for her death. And death is indeed what lies within the coffin he takes with him everywhere as Jackson and his men will soon find out. The loner gunslinger Django also plays two gangs against each other for his own gain but, his gain is far more personal then profitable. The film’s graveyard shootout finale is also very bleak and makes one wonder if Corbucci is asking us whether Django’s surrounding himself with so much death has made him an outcast amongst the living. Django is a hard and violent tale under Corbucci’s direction and Franco Nero’s Django is a hard and violent man who, unlike Eastwood’s charming anti-hero, is a man on a path to hell and plans on taking as many with him as possible. His flashes of humanity are brief and seem only directed at the saloon girl Maria, who falls for the dark loner. But, even Maria is not immune to the violence that follows this man wherever he goes. Django is an interesting entry in the Spaghetti Western genre and seems to be the dark opposite of Leone’s series with Eastwood. And as such has earned it’s own classic status and is rightfully regarded as one of the genres best examples.
Also 3 and 1/2 pistols