You gotta admit, Jake loves him his western remakes. First, there was 3:10 to Yuma, then there was True Grit, and now he comes up with a film, Quentin Tarantino‘s 2012 feature Django Unchained, which while it’s actually more of an homage to the heavily violent 1966 spaghetti western Django than a technical remake, still seems to fit the category quite well.
The fun thing, at least for me, about Django Unchained is that it so neatly seems to fit into a three-act format (though the third act is not terribly long). As someone who has no actual background in film theory and who, during a film, never ever ever thinks something like, “Oh, this is the second act”, Django Unchained was a bit of a revelation for me.
The first act opens only a few years prior to the Civil War, with Django, a recently-bought slave who has maliciously been sold separately from his wife after they attempted an escape, being transported by night along with about half a dozen fellow captives. Along comes the German former dentist Dr. King Schultz, now an ambiguously scrupulous bounty hunter who believes (correctly) that a slave named Django may be able to help him identify a trio of wanted brothers. Facing some resistance in his attempt to purchase Django outright, King murders the slavers (Ah! Slavers! The easy villain Nazis of American westerns!), sets the other slaves free, and takes Django with him, promising his freedom and a cut of the proftis if he helps ID the brothers.
Seeing as these brothers were responsible for viciously lashing both Django and his wife, and that the money might help him to somehow rescue her, Django signs on.
If there’s anything we learn about Django early on in the film, it’s that given the opportunity he is quiiiiiiiite fashion conscious.
If, perhaps, not terribly on target for his times.
Anyhow, the initial search for the brothers goes remarkably smoothly, Django and King kill them (and presumably deliver them for the bounty), and King convinces Django to bounty-hunt the winter with him before trying to find his wife. During this time, King convinces Django to keep hold of the poster for the first bounty he collects (it’s good luck), and learns that Django’s wife is named Brünnhilde (well, the IMDB credits her as “Broomhilda”, but let’s pretend that her christeners, who were obviously German, got it right). With a name like that, King can hardly avoid joining Django on his quest. Thus ends the first act.
The second act follows the two as they plot to retrieve Brünnhilde from her new owner, the notorious slaver, owner of the Candyland plantation, and Mandingo fight organizer Calvin Candie. (Note: it would appear that the tradition of Mandingo fighting may be entirely fabricated.)
In addition to Django’s wife (and countless others) Candie has a particularly loyal Uncle…Samuel in tow by the name of Stephen. And King and Django’s plot to purchase Brünnhilde, cleverly disguised as an attempt to buy a top Mandingo fighter with the German King allegedly falling for the German-speaking Brünnhilde in the meantime, is sniffed out by Stephen. Tattling, tattling Stephen.
When Candie realizes the truth, he forces King and Django to pay the ridiculous amount they had offered (though never intended to pay) for the Mandingo fighter for Brünnhilde – or he will straight up kill her. She’s his property, so he can do that kind of thing. Legally. Obviously the moral component doesn’t really compute. Because, as I said, Slaver = Nazi. Anyway. With little choice the two protagonists agree to Candie’s sadistic demands, and it was at this point that silly little me thought the film might actually end with our heroes paying off the bad guy and walking away.
It’s kind of a long second act, and there are really only a few violent moments which tend to happen towards the beginning, and it’s an engaging film…and I kind of totally forgot it was a Tarantino movie.
Oh yeah, it’s a Tarantino movie. Candie insults King by insisting that he shake hands on the already-consummated deal, and King responds by shooting him. And the bloodbath begins. King is killed basically immediately, and Django takes out about a billionty of the Nazi Slavers (Stephen excluded) before being captured (again under the threat of violence to Brünnhilde) and thus ends the second act.
But, like a supervillain who just HAS to explain his plot and give the hero a chance to escape, the surviving Candyland slavers decide to sell Django off into slavery at a “death camp” mining operation rather than just, I dunno, killing him. And thus, the brief third act. Django convinces his transportation captors (including the obligatory Tarantino cameo) that he is a bounty hunter (true) by showing them that original bounty poster and saying that the wanted men from the poster are at Candyland and offering to cut them in on the profits if they let him go. They let him go, and he slaughters them. Then he goes back to Candyland, rescues Brünnhilde, and blows the whole place up (with Stephen inside) with dynamite. Because, dynamite. The end.
Wait a minute. Dynamite was invented by Alfred Nobel in 1867. That would be AFTER the Civil War? I’ve got a good enough grasp on U.S. history to not need to look that up. Ah, anachronism!
I guess that sort of thing can be overlooked. In the end, it’s a pretty good movie – and given the fact that it’s Tarantino’s highest-grossing ever, I guess a lot of other folks agreed. It’s got the typical Tarantino cleverness, and the typical comic-level violence (even allowing that second act that sucked me into complacence), and it was completely worth the popcorn.