“What’s your name?” “Django. The D is silent.”
It’s 1858, 3 years before the American Civil War and 5 years before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Django (Foxx) is one of many slaves in the South. He is purchased by Dr King Schultz (Waltz) to help him find the Brittle brothers in exchange for his freedom. An unlikely partnership blossoms, one that challenges the racism and slavery of that era, and results in Dr. Schultz offering to help find Django’s wife Brünnhilde (Washington).
Along the way, Dr Schultz notices Django’s gun skills and trains him to be his deputy bounty hunter and a shy slave becomes an unlikely hero and provides one of the two film’s comedic double acts. After much searching, they discover that ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio) has Brünnhilde (or Broomhilda as her ignorant slave owners begin to call her) and a dangerous daring plan for her rescue is concocted.
Quentin Tarantino is known for his unashamed telling of a story regardless of who he may or may not offend and he never shies away from uncomfortable topics. Here he tackles the horrific treatment of black slaves in the South particularly, in the format of the spaghetti westerns he loves so much. His attention to detail is nothing short of genius with the landscape, the classic Western sudden camera zooms, the music and even the opening credits using an old Columbia Pictures intro. This is a man in love with Westerns, who orchestrates a cameo for himself & the original Django (Franco Nero).
Many have and will argue that this is an irreverent look at a horrible time in our history, making light of such a dark situation and complain of the over-usage of the N-word (110 times). I was even asked if “as a woman of colour” (their words not mine), if I was offended by his film? To be perfectly honest, NO. This film pays homage to the Westerns but is at the same time totally crazy and is a brilliant representation of how insane slavery really was. No one can really argue about the usage of the N-word as it’s a moot point, we have no idea how they spoke back then as the word is not as taboo as it is today. Even great authors used the N-word in their literature back then. It is simply a gripping tale of a slave who refuses to stay helpless with the helping hand of a caring German bounty hunter, with a LOT of the over-the-top almost cartoonish violence in the way that Tarantino does so well, mixed in with a love story.
The performances in this are nothing short of inspired! To have such strong leads that steal every scene they are in is positively rare. The final part of the film where they are all in the same scene is richly tense and brilliant. Christoph Waltz (“Inglorious Basterds”, “Water for Elephants”) is incredible as the eccentric German dentist-turned-bounty-hunter who abhors slavery. Jamie Foxx (“Ray” “Law Abiding Citizen”) is going from strength to strength and provides a strong performance as the titular character with great comic timing and anger bubbling beneath the surface in an explosive balance. DiCaprio (“Inception”, “Blood Diamond”) embodies the Machiavellian character of Calvin Candie who is, despite his well-spoken and welcoming exterior, pure evil and runs his plantation with an iron fist and a silver tongue. Samuel Lee Jackson (“Avengers: Assemble”) brings to life the ultimate bad guy, the Uncle Tom to end them all, who complements Candie’s character and they provide the second comedic double act of the film. It feels like an ultimate betrayal that he is as ruthless as his master in the treatment of his fellow man.
My verdict? Go and see it! It is fantastic, shocking, gratuitously violent, hilarious (the Ku Klux Klan scene is a memorable one), insane and serious all at once in its handling of such a dark subject matter. It is uncomfortable, it is challenging, it is too long, but it’s ultimately a story of victim turned vigilante riding off into the sunset (on Foxx’s actual horse) with his true love.