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‘Django Unchained’: Slavery in the West and Django (the ‘D’ is silent)

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By Fred Allen

“Django” is a very entertaining movie in spite of the serious subject it presents. Slavery is never funny, but sometimes humor makes us take a subject more seriously by allowing our minds to relax for a few moments before the awfulness hits us again between the eyes. More than one of the actors complained that they found it difficult to use the n-word over and over. But in the years just preceding the Civil War, the n-word was used more than ever because the divided nation knew that the fate of that word was at the heart of the War Between the States.

The screen lights up with the gorgeous Western landscape. When the crimson opening titles appear, you know it’s a Quentin Tarantino picture. The light touch for such a delicate subject as slavery in America is deftly applied. That too can only be Tarantino. The references to past films and the appearances of former formidable actors can only be Tarantino. Should I also mention that the amount of blood spilled and bodies tossed about can only be—You guessed it.

Set in the South two years before the Civil War, “Django Unchained” stars 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 (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can identify his bounty. 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 (Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation. Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave. It is a cat-and-mouse game as Django maneuvers to create an opening for the two slaves to get away without being punished by the tenacious Southern slaveholders.

The two sides are evenly matched. Broomhilda is a worthy prize with both sides willing to stake all in keeping her where she belongs. It is Jamie Foxx as an uneducated black who learns almost too quickly what he must do. Waltz is a man who is looked on with suspicion at first but is on the side of the slaves after he has done his job.

Seeing DiCaprio as a villain is unsettling for me because almost anyone could make a bad guy out of this character. It’s too bad that when Leonardo does a decent job, he is lauded for it. Let’s face it, in “Django” he does a good job, and nothing more.

The slave owners hold most of the cards but they are blinded by the moral wrong of having slaves. First, there is Don Johnson as one of many plantation owners who try to stop Shultz and Django in the guise of an inept embryonic Ku Klux Klan. At Candyland (silly name) the inevitable Tarantino battle rages with bullets spurting red gobs over the scenery in an all-out bloodfest. Even then the movie is not over. Just as in the “Kill Bill” double feature, there are evil men to kill, notably the chief house slave Steven, who Django says is worse than any white man.

Family Rating: R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, nudity (Foxx full frontal nudity), language including over a hundred uses of the n-word. Also featuring James Remar, Franco Nero, Tom Wopat, Russ and Amber Tamblyn, and other famed actors who you won’t recognize until you see their names in the closing titles. .A hodge-podge of songs, both contemporary and historic which will make you smile at the irony.  (2 hr. 45 min.)

Also opening TEXAS CHAINSAW (2-D AND 3-D). Rated R.