Direction: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay by: Quentin Tarantino
Plot: Set in 1858, two years before the American Civil War, a group of male African slaves is chained to one another and transported across the Texan forest in severely inhumane and degrading conditions. Amongst them is Django (Jamie Foxx) a slave who has been sold separately from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). One night the slave merchants are stopped by a dentist: Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who is in reality a mysterious German bounty hunter who kills one of them and injures the other. He asks Django if he can help him find the Brittle Brothers whom he must next kill. Django knows them as they were his previous owners and since they treated him and his wife with savage cruelty accepts to help him. He is unchained and the other slaves are freed by King Schultz who does not like slavery and leaves the slaves to avenge the humiliation they suffered by beating the other Speck brother to death. Hence begins a very successful partnership between Django and Dr. King. They hunt down and execute the Brittle Brothers and begin to work on other bounty contracts together. Dr. King admires Django´s bravery and feeling empathy for his suffering offers to help him find Broomhilda. After several successful bounty contracts he learns that she works in Calvin Candie´s (Leonardo Di Caprio) plantation known as Candyland. Candie is notorious for his cruelty and his passion for engaging his slaves in savage Mandingo fights and so Dr. King and Django work up a ruse where Django much to his disgust has to pose as a slave trader and offer him a considerable amount of money for one of his prized fighters in order to get close to him and confirm that Broomhilda is indeed in his plantation. As part of the business negotiations they are invited to his plantation where they see that Broomhilda is alive although shocked at the inhumane conditions she was punished prior to their arrival. Since Broomhilda speaks German fluently she is invited to go to Dr. King´s room at his request and “entertain” him. Once she arrives, he tells her the whole story in German so that anyone eavesdropping cannot understand them. The ruse seems to go very well although Candie´s master butler Stephen (Samuel L Jackson) notices that Django and Broomhilda in fact have a common history. He alerts Candie who furiously coerces Dr. King and Django to pay the price they offered for the champion fighter for Broomhilda and they can take her (a price much higher than they had planned). After signing and ensuring that Broomhilda is indeed no longer his property, Dr. King shoots Candie and kills him but is shot himself and dies. Thus ensues a bloody shootout with Django killing many of Candie´s henchmen. However Stephen had apprehended Broomhilda and he is forced to surrender. After been tortured, he is sent to a mine to work to till his death and Broomhilda is locked in a cabin. Fooling his new slave traders (amongst them a cameo by Quentin Tarantino) he kills them and returns to Candyland to rescue Broomhilda and burn the mansion thus killing Stephen.
Critique: Django is a masterpiece by the controversial and daring director Quentin Tarantino. It definitely sets him apart from other directors who have gone into the “Western” genre and puts him in a different league. Django explores and digs around taboo subjects until now, such as portraying graphically the horrors of slavery or the savage cruelty of slave owners in cotton plantations. It is definitely not a film for all audiences, not even a film for all of Tarantino´s fans. There are moments when one feels the need to look away but that would be as futile as pretending such a horrific episode in human history did not happen. It marks Tarantino as slightly more mature than his beginnings. Recently he has made some excellent use of the rightful avenger protagonist who has being wronged in the past (The Bride in “Kill Bill or Shosana in “Inglorious Basterds”) and has repeated the formula successfully this time with Django. A definitive recommendation though as mentioned, not for the faint hearted. His brilliant directing and script would not be complete without the masterful performances by the three protagonists, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo Di Caprio along with the insuperable interpretation by Samuel L Jackson of the repulsive Master Butler Stephen or the sensitive and rebellious interpretation of Kerry Washington. Not to forget, one must also mention the brilliant soundtrack with memorable tracks by John Legend, Elisa Toffoli, RZA or collaboration between legends Tupac Shakur and James Brown.
Django (Jamie Foxx) – Django is a black slave who had to live through a cruel and savage time in American history. We are never revealed how much of his life he has had to bear slavery but he is no stranger to its cruelty. The story begins with him travelling by foot chained to other male slaves across a forest in extremely harsh conditions. He is freed by Dr. King Shultz who has a bounty contract to kill his previous owners and agrees to assist him in doing so. Gradually we learn that Django is a brave and decent man. He longs for his estranged wife who was sold separately and wants to rescue her. We also start observing his intelligent and curious nature. He longs for a society where a black man can present himself just as a white man and even copies the (sometimes ludicrous) clothing style of high class white men even though King is surprised and a fellow female slave mocks his attire. He is also very sensitive and is appalled when he learns he has to pose as a black slave trader or when he has to shoot a criminal in front of his son. On a lighter side, we also get to see his cocky and vain side when he enjoys showing off with his horse in front of his beloved Broomhilda in a memorable scene.
Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) – Dr. King Schultz is a former dentist, now a bounty hunter. He is charismatic, extremely intelligent, and highly articulate. He disagrees with slavery and shortly upon freeing Django takes and instant liking to him and befriends him. He is very empathic and decides upon hearing his story, that he must help Django reunite with his estranged Broomhilda. We can observe his highly sensitive attitude towards with black slaves when he witnesses the horrific execution of D´Artagnan, (one of Candie´s slaves) or his repulsion towards the end of their negotiations with Candie. He is also respectful towards Broomhilda and keeps his loyalty towards Django until the very end.
Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio) – Calvin is a brutal and yet sometimes charming cotton plantation owner in the South. He is immensely wealthy through inheritance. His family has been slave traders for generations and he himself is the owner of a considerable number of slaves. He is brutal and sadistically cruel towards his slaves whom he treats like animals forcing his male slaves to engage in Mandingo fights till death. If one of them decides to escape, he is executed publicly as a lesson for the rest. He openly quotes scientific research (manipulated in those times obviously) where he belittles black people as having a part of their brain that makes them more submissive than other people and that’s why he justifies slavery. Nevertheless this does not prevent him from accepting Stephen, a black butler as his confidante and even follow his instructions, thus seeing him as at least his equal.
Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) – Broomhilda is the heroine of the story, the estranged wife of Django who endures torture, abuse, humiliation, corporal punishments and maybe even sexual assaults whilst she longs for her hero. Like her beloved soul mate, in the lighter parts of the story we see a playful, romantic and joyous young woman who likes to joke around and simply be happy. The fact that she has a German name and speaks the language fluently amazes Dr. King Schultz who decides he has to help his friend and is also a key part in their plan to rescue her.
Stephen: (Samuel L Jackson) – played amazingly by Samuel L Jackson (one of Tarantino´s life loyalists) Stephen is probably the most repulsive character in a story that already contains the origins of the Ku Klux Klan, rednecks from the south and slave traders. He is Candy land’s Master Butler and Calvin´s main confidante. On the outside he is a foul mouthed, sometimes comic, and overbearing butler with a limp. Yet it is all pure façade (even his limp). He is a manipulator and his extreme loyalty towards Candie leads him to abuse other black servants or slaves when he sees necessary. He has no conscience and lacks all empathy towards other black people in this savage time. Behind the curtains we observe how he moves the threads of the Candy Land plantation even when push comes to shove, how he controls Calvin himself. When no one sees them, Calvin treats him not as an overbearing servant but as an equal and sometimes even superior intellectually accepting his suggestions when dealing with the Broomhilda ruse.