In Anticipation: "Django Unchained"

Not a fan of the iconic director of such gems as Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Reservoir Dogs? Too much dialogue you say? Over stylized and gratuitously violent? One person's criticism is another's compliment and those common gripes are actually valuable tools Quentin Tarantino uses to great advantage, which undoubtedly leave a personalized stamp on his films. They are also why I am a fan of his work and am taking aim at Django Unchained for the latest segment in our In Anticipation series. Like it or not, it opens wide on December 25 and will hopefully bring his usual blend of dark humor and searing grittiness that we (at least this guy) have grown to love. 

Inside, you will find an official synopsis, a theatrical trailer, and some of my thoughts going into the movie.

Set in the South two years before the Civil War, “Django Unchained” stars Academy Award®-winner Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Academy Award®-winner Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittles – dead or alive.

Success leads Schultz to free Django, though the two men choose not to go their separate ways. Instead, Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with Django by his side. Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago.

Django and Schultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Academy Award®-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation where slaves are groomed by trainer Ace Woody (Kurt Russell) to battle each other for sport. Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Academy Award®-nominee Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave. Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organization closes in on them. If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they must choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival…

Let's take a minute to appreciate the casting choices. We have some Tarantino veterans assembled, which is expected and more than welcome, but two of the notable newcomers are Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio. I think it's safe to say that DiCaprio's performance is going to be a main draw for a lot of people (me included), especially considering the campy style the trailer seems to be displaying and his usual reluctance to find roles outside of a more grounded, dramatic spectrum of character personalities. As for Foxx, I'm fine admitting that there was a certain level of doubt upon hearing his involvement in Django, but after some reflective thought, it became evident that he was a very inspired choice. Let's not forget that Foxx is no stranger to both comedy and drama - he got a huge start from the hit sketch-comedy television show, In Living Color, and has received a frickin' Academy Award. Basically what I'm saying is, the guy has range - let's give him a chance here.

A very crucial point I have to make is that this is the first film by Tarantino that will not be edited by long time collaborator, Sally Menke. Now, a general movie goer might think that this isn't a big deal. However, editing is an unceremoniously crucial aspect of film-making that many take for granted, and Menke is just as responsible for the style and narrative structure in a Tarantino film as Tarantino himself. Will her absence hurt Django, or is the Tarantino style and structure such a formula by this point that editors with similar instincts will be able jump in and achieve the same level of quality we have come to expect? 

Fortunately, some reviews are already in and they are mostly positive. My big fear was that the tone of the film, however it may be, might not mesh with the racial conflicts and slavery plot. Now that I see the level love for this film from my movie peers, I can rest assured that Tarantino has found a way to balance the intense violence, funny dialogue and potentially offensive material into a film that not only entertains, but points a finger at a dark time in American history. Looks like I know what my plans are for Christmas Day!