Django Unchained is everything you want and expect from a Quentin Tarantino flick: it’s big and bloody and beautiful and badass. Because Tarantino has so successfully marked his territory, nothing about Django Unchained surprises, but it’s ultimately a fun romp of a movie and a thrill to watch.
The titular Django (the “D” is silent) is a slave who is bought and in turn freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in 1858. Schultz needs Django (Jamie Foxx) to help him in the bounty hunting business: Schultz is after three brothers and only Django can identify them. Though he is not a fan of slaves, Schultz befriends and starts to sympathize with the newly freed Django, who tells of his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), being sold, separately from him. Schultz is intrigued by the African-American Broomhilda’s German name (turns out, she was born on the plantation and named by her German owners) and tells Django of the German myth of Broomhilda the princess and her hero, Siegfried. Schultz vows to help Django find and free his wife after they spend a winter collecting bounties.
Enter Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the plantation owner who bought Broomhilda. Schultz and Django devise a plan to trick Candie into selling Broomhilda to Schultz, bringing Schultz and Django to Candie’s plantation, which is when most of the fun begins. But wait for Candie’s number-one slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) to discover Schultz and Django’s ulterior motives and that's when things get terrifically Tarnantino-esque.
At its heart, Django Unchained is an old spaghetti Western, but Tarantino’s revenge fantasy has tons of his own signature expletive-riddled dialogue and comically copious blood to spare, with meaty roles for the talented troupe.
Paying great attention to detail and supporting his film with an epic score fit for an opera (plus several assists from modern artists, including John Legend), Tarantino creates a world on a grand scale, missing no opportunity to build mountains out of molehills. He lays the groundwork for what’s to follow when he has Waltz’s Schultz tell the tale of Broomhilda and her Siegfried, and even dresses Broomhilda (at least in Django’s day dreams) in rich, saturated royal colors, like deep purple and sumptuous yellow. (Costume design is by Sharen Davis.)
Everyone seems game for telling Tarantino’s tale. Waltz could talk his way out of anything as the fun foreigner Schultz. Jackson puts on airs as the lippy slave that Candie takes a shine to. Washington is a wonderful muse, with her big eyes and soft lips. And Foxx peacocks his way through Django “Freeman”’s journey.
But for my enjoyment, it’s all about my Leonardo DiCaprio. Always one to commit to a role, DiCaprio more than delivers playing the despicable Candie. He seems to savor every last drop of nefariousness within Candie much as the flamboyant Candie himself savors every last drop of his Polynesian rum drink that he sips - through a straw - from a coconut. It’s a different kind of character for DiCaprio, in as much as Candie is outrageous and deplorable and, to say the least, tarnished, but just as in more obviously “hefty” roles, DiCaprio brings sincerity and a master actor’s touch to this truly diabolical slave owner.