×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino rides to the Weinsteins' rescue, delivering a bloody hilarious (and hilariously bloody) Christmas counter-programmer, which Sony will unleash abroad.

With:
Django - Jamie Foxx
Dr. King Schultz - Christoph Waltz
Calvin Candie - Leonardo DiCaprio
Broomhilda von Shaft - Kerry Washington
Stephen - Samuel L. Jackson
Billy Crash - Walton Goggins
Leonide Moguy - Dennis Christopher
Ace Speck - James Remar
Mr. Stonesipher - David Steen
Cora - Dana Gourrier
Sheba - Nichole Galicia
Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly - Laura Cayouette
Rodney - Sammi Rotibi
Clay - Donahue Fontenot
Big Fred - Escalante Lundy
Betina - Miriam F. Glover
Big Daddy - Don Johnson
Curtis Carrucan - Bruce Dern

The “D” is silent, though the name of “Django Unchained’s” eponymous gunslinger sounds like a retaliatory whip across the face of white slaveholders, offering an immensely satisfying taste of antebellum empowerment packaged as spaghetti-Western homage. Christened after a coffin-toting Sergio Corbucci character who metes out bloody justice below the Mason-Dixon line, Django joins a too-short list of slaves-turned-heroes in American cinema, as this zeitgeist-shaping romp cleverly upgrades the mysterious Man in Black archetype to a formidable Black Man. Once again, Quentin Tarantino rides to the Weinsteins’ rescue, delivering a bloody hilarious (and hilariously bloody) Christmas counter-programmer, which Sony will unleash abroad.

After “Inglourious Basterds” and “Kill Bill,” it would be reasonable to assume that “Django Unchained” is yet another of Tarantino’s elaborate revenge fantasies, when in fact, the film represents the writer-director’s first real love story (not counting his “Badlands”-inspired screenplays for “True Romance” and “Natural Born Killers”). At its core is a slave marriage between Django (Jamie Foxx) and Hildi (Kerry Washington), torn asunder after the couple attempt to escape a spiteful plantation owner (Bruce Dern, blink and you miss him).

Brutally whipped and then resold to separate bidders on the Greenville, Miss., auction block, Django and his bride — whose outrageous full name, Broomhilda von Shaft, blends epic German legend with the greatest of blaxploitation heroes — possess a love too great to be shackled by slavery. But getting even with Dern’s character doesn’t feature on Django’s agenda. After settling the score with his former overseers early in the film, he cares only about reuniting with his wife.

Django Unchained” could also qualify as a buddy movie — an odd twist, considering that Corbucci’s original Django was a loner (as played by Franco Nero, who cameos in this film). Liberally reinventing a character bastardized in more than 30 unofficial sequels, Tarantino pairs this new black Django with a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Posing as a dentist, Waltz’s charming figure first emerges in the dead of night driving an absurd-looking carriage with a giant tooth bobbing on top — the first indication of how funny the film is going to be.

As in “Basterds,” Waltz’s genteel manner masks a startling capacity for ruthlessness. This time, however, he’s undeniably one of the good guys. Though he tracks and kills men for a living, the doctor is fundamentally fair, shooting only when provoked or justified. Happening upon Django’s chain gang, Schultz offers to buy the slave from his redneck escorts. When they decline, he leaves the traders for dead and liberates their “property,” enlisting Django in his bounty-hunting business.

Tarantino’s on sensitive turf here, and he knows it, using these early scenes not only to establish the cruelty shown toward slaves in the South, but also to deliver the same sort of revisionist comeuppance Jewish soldiers took upon Hitler in his last picture. Ironically, as a well-read and clearly more enlightened German, Schultz is disapproving of Americans’ claims to racial superiority, which positions him as the story’s moral conscience. When the time comes, he will accompany Django to Candyland, the plantation where Hildi now resides under the thumb of the unctuous Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

But the film seems to be in no hurry to get there, focusing on Django’s most unusual education — killing white men — for the first 90 minutes of the director’s longest feature yet. Tarantino freely quotes from his favorite stylistic sources, whether oaters or otherwise, featuring lightning-quick zooms, an insert of unpicked cotton drenched in blood and a shot of Django riding into town framed through a hangman’s noose. Early on, Foxx appears to be following Waltz’s lead, but once the snow melts on the bounty-hunting subplot (an extended homage to Corbucci’s “The Great Silence”), all traces of subservience disappear and Foxx steps forth, guiding this triumphant folk hero through a stunning transformation.

True to its spaghetti-Western roots, the pic reveals most of its stoic hero’s unspoken motivations through garishly colored flashbacks, though Tarantino and editor Fred Raskin (stepping in for the late Sally Menke) seem to realize that limited glimpses of such white-on-black sadism go a long way. Filmmakers who choose to portray this shameful chapter of America’s past bear a certain responsibility not to sanitize it. But here, even as it lays the groundwork for “Django’s” vengeance, dwelling on such brutality can verge on exploitation. To wit, the film problematically features no fewer than 109 instances of the “N word,” most of them deployed either for laughs or alliteration.

While good taste doesn’t necessarily apply, comedy seems to be the key that distinguishes “Django Unchained” from a risible film like “Mandingo.” Both take a certain horror-pleasure in watching bare-chested black men wrestle to the death — the sick sport at which Candie prides himself an expert — but what better way to inoculate the power of a Klan rally than by turning it into a Mel Brooks routine, reducing bigots to buffoons as they argue about their ill-fitting white hoods?

Using rap and other cheeky music cues to similar effect, the script repeatedly finds ways to use the characters’ racism against them, most ingeniously in its somewhat protracted second half. According to Schultz, if he and Django were to show up at Candyland and offer to buy Hildi directly, they’d be laughed off the plantation, so they hatch a plan to pose as men looking to buy a mandingo fighter. But there’s a flaw to their logic, since the direct-request approach worked fine with Don Johnson’s “Big Daddy” earlier, it allows the film to explore the complex caste system among slaves.

There are two things Tarantino, as a director, has virtually perfected — staging Mexican standoffs and spinning dialogue for delayed gratification — and expert examples of both await at Candyland. Seductively revealing a dark side auds have never seen before, DiCaprio plays Candie as a self-entitled brat, spewing the character’s white-supremacy theories through tobacco-stained teeth. Like a Southern despot, he surrounds himself with menacing cohorts, none more dangerous than old Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who runs the affairs of Candie’s household and represents a form of toxic black-on-black rivalry still smoldering in American culture today.

Gorgeously lit and lensed by Robert Richardson against authentic American landscapes (as opposed to the Italian soil Corbucci used), the film pays breathtaking respect not just to Tarantino’s many cinematic influences, but to the country itself, envisioning a way out of the slavery mess it depicts. In sheer formal terms, “Django Unchained” is rich enough to reward multiple viewings, while thematics will make this thorny “southern” — as the director aptly dubs it — perhaps his most closely studied work. Of particular interest will be Tarantino’s two cameos, one delivered with an Australian accent, and the other alongside Jonah Hill in the “baghead” scene.

Popular on Variety

Django Unchained

Production: A Weinstein Co. (in U.S.)/Sony Pictures Entertainment (international) release of a Weinstein Co./Columbia Pictures presentation of a Band Apart production. Produced by Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, Pilar Savone. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Shannon McIntosh, Michael Shamberg, James W. Skotchdople. Directed, written by Quentin Tarantino.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Robert Richardson; editor, Fred Raskin; music supervisor, Mary Ramos; production designer, J. Michael Riva; supervising art director, David Klassen; art directors, Mara Schloop, Page Buckner; set decorator, Leslie Pope; costume designer, Sharen Davis; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat), Mark Ulano; supervising sound editor, Wylie Stateman; re-recording mixers, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti; special effects supervisor, John McLeod; visual effects supervisor, Greg Steele; visual effects, Rhythm & Hues Studios; special makeup effects, KNB EFX Group; special makeup effects supervisor, Gregory Nicotero; associate producer, William Paul Clark; assistant director, William Paul; casting, Victoria Thomas. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, Calif., Dec. 2, 2012. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 165 MIN.

With: Django - Jamie Foxx
Dr. King Schultz - Christoph Waltz
Calvin Candie - Leonardo DiCaprio
Broomhilda von Shaft - Kerry Washington
Stephen - Samuel L. Jackson
Billy Crash - Walton Goggins
Leonide Moguy - Dennis Christopher
Ace Speck - James Remar
Mr. Stonesipher - David Steen
Cora - Dana Gourrier
Sheba - Nichole Galicia
Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly - Laura Cayouette
Rodney - Sammi Rotibi
Clay - Donahue Fontenot
Big Fred - Escalante Lundy
Betina - Miriam F. Glover
Big Daddy - Don Johnson
Curtis Carrucan - Bruce DernWith: Franco Nero, James Russo, Tom Wopat, Don Stroud, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, M.C. Gainey, Cooper Huckabee, Doc Duhame, Jonah Hill, Lee Horsley, Zoe Bell, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Jake Garber, Ted Neeley, James Parks, Tom Savini, Ato Essandoh, Omar J. Dorsey, Michael Parks, John Jarratt, Quentin Tarantino. (English, German, French dialogue)

More Film

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content