It's rare talent when a filmmaker can be both an auteur as well as commercially successful. But Quentin Tarantino is one of those rare directors whose movies not only speak to film aficionados, but the casual viewer as well. When watching a Tarantino film, one is not only entertained from start to finish, but is also learning something about the history of cinema, whether they realize it or not.
"Django Unchained" (The D is silent) tells the story of Django, played by Jamie Foxx, a slave who is of particular value to Dr. King Schultz, who is looking for the Brittle Brothers (Tarantino has a love for alliteration, it seems) and Django knows what they look like. In exchange for his service, Schultz promises Django his freedom, as well as helping to rescue his wife from the notorious, cruel, barbaric and extremely charming Calvin Candie, played effortlessly by Leonardo DiCaprio.
"Django's" power and entertainment value comes from its astonishing cast. Yeah, Christoph Waltz plays a more benevolent version of his character from "Inglorious Basterds," but that doesn't make him any less entertaining to watch.
Part of what makes a Tarantino villain so interesting and likable is the villain's ability to go from polite and sincere to insane and blood-thirsty and then back again within a short period of time and DiCaprio has the skills to make us like him, even though he's an awful person. His plantation is named Candie Land, and as slave owners were wont to do at that time, he treats his slaves as his own personal playthings, making them fight to the death with one another for his own personal entertainment. Tarantino's disarms us and our expectations of villains. It was a shame that DiCaprio was not nominated for an Oscar for his performance. He will go down as one of the best Tarantino villains of all time. Samuel L. Jackson as Candie's house slave was also shamefully overlooked. He's Candie's right hand man and is a bit brighter than Candie is, alerting him to when there's treachery afoot.
It wouldn't be a Tarantino film without copious amounts of violence, and Tarantino does not disappoint, making "Django Unchained" probably his bloodiest movie since "Kill Bill." But for those who shrink at the sight of blood, while there is a lot of it, it's all done with a sense of comedy, as the amount of blood that spews from gunshot wounds is a ludicrous amount.
Tarantino's script is as solid as most of his other work, giving us great monologues and compelling and believable dialogue. His ear for dialogue is matched by few others, and while audiences can sometimes lose interest in movies that are heavy on dialogue, Tarantino balances it out well with action. While I'm rooting for others, Tarantino has a good shot at taking home the Oscar for best original screenplay.
I was unsure of how "Django" was going to play out as its plot sounded quite a bit like "Basterds," but despite some similarities, Tarantino has perfected his genre-mashing skills giving us something wholly original yet with a similar feel.
Scott Viau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.