Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave in chains in 1858, a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War. During a chance encounter on a trail somewhere in Texas, a German-born dentist turned bounty hunter by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys Django to help him find a few wanted men.
The odd couple soon start trusting each other. Django helps the Doctor find and kill bad guys for money. Eventually, the Doctor decides to help Django find his wife, Brunhilde, a slave that was sold away from him in Mississippi.
They find her at a large southern plantation named Candieland, owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is a renowned and feared slave owner, and, as we find out, a sadist.
Candieland is run by Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a slave himself, who, as southern irony would have it, loves his young master like a father, or – like a slave driver of the worst kind himself. He will do anything to keep the system intact, and he runs the estate with an iron fist.
This is the most brutal film ever made by Quentin Tarantino. The violence is staggering. People are constantly getting killed. Guns blast huge holes into people, who all seem to be gushing blood. I didn’t know people could bleed that violently, and I will never know if they really do. But it works in this film. Django Unchained is an unmitigated, uncompromising, offensive and repulsive blood bath from beginning to end.
The film portrays the institution of slavery in America in the south unlike anything I have experienced reading Gone with the Wind or Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Tarantino throws the abuse of human beings by society as a whole at us with relentless ferocity. We witness dogs tearing apart a slave who tried to run away. We see a woman thrown naked in a cage in the ground to stew for ten days. We see men running after horses in chains, barefoot, all night. We see other men killing each other with hammers in the living room in front of the fire-place to the amusement of the white overlords who own them. We see stupidity and human degeneration in the white trash that feeds off this system like rats off a corpse.
To tell this horrific story and to make it possible that we can bear sitting there for 2 hours and 43 minutes of non-stop killing, torture and injustice, Tarantino dishes out humor in just the right proportions, at just the right times. The humor is never base, ugly, stupid or slapsticky. It works like a perfect machine, keeping the viewer engaged, almost like passing out rewards of candy after particularly atrocious scenes. “It’s okay, viewer, I know this was hard. Hang in there with me. This story is worth telling.”
Good and evil are grotesquely contrasted. The good guys are brutal gunfighters and cold-blooded murderers who think nothing of blowing the head off an innocent woman just to make their case. But the evil is so deep, fed and institutionalized by the system of slavery, that we root for these murderers and feel good for all their little successes against all odds.
The work by all the major actors is superb. I was there in the woods, or on the plantation with them. It was all real. The musical score perfectly engaged and accentuated the violence.
Critics might accuse this film of glorified gun violence, especially at this time when guns and related violence are on the forefront of the national debate. There are a lot of guns in this movie, yes, but there is nothing glorifying about them. Guns, whips and brutality are what the oppressors, who were in the minority, used in the south of slavery to keep their victims in chains.
I walked out of Django Unchained completely convinced I had just watched an absolute masterpiece. A story that needs telling, packaged perfectly and engaging all the senses and emotions.
My rating system stops at four stars.