I suppose that it’s inevitable that a great director could one day become a product of their own greatness and make a movie with such wild abandon that he thinks he can do no wrong because he thinks he IS who everyone says he is. Remember Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”?
Working with a damn fine cast, we have the great Jamie Foxx as Django (the ‘D’ is silent), a slave in 1858 who is rescued by a quite literate (and no-nonsense) German-accented bounty hunter named King Schultz (perfectly cast Christoph Waltz). In the bounty hunter game, Schultz is unsurpassed in his brutality and frank-talking, but needs Django to find three bad guys to claim a huge reward. Together they form a partnership (and later a friendship) and track down the evil trio to Big Daddy’s (Don Johnson) plantation and dispose of them one-two-three.
“Do like like bounty hunting?” asks Schultz
“Getting paid for killing white people? What’s not to like?” replies Django.
It seems that Django has a gift for accurate shooting (and brutal killing) and reveals to Schultz that his slave wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is lost somewhere on an unknown plantation. After a long search, Schultz finds her on “Candyland”, a huge plantation owned by twisted psycho-dandy Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in rare and menacing form) and his just-as-crazy servant, Steven (Samuel L. Jackson). In a wild scheme to rescue her, they ingratiate themselves into Candie’s favor to buy one of Candie’s “mandigo” fighters. Soon, they find Broomhilda and, just as you think they’re gonna get away with their scheme, the deal goes sour and their plans are revealed!
There’s a capture, escape, and then the last 30 minutes is a whirlwind orgy of gunfire and flesh-exploding revenge so nasty that I’ve only seem that kind of carnage in the “Saw” movies. Oh, sure there’s the requisite happy ending, but geez Louise!
Yes, you get the tried and true Tarantino dialogue that never fails. It’s a symphony of words like Sorkin or Mamet so conversational and so perfect, you’d swear that it’s all improv’d. And Tarantino also adds his trademark eclectic music soundtrack, macabre humor, and a ton of cameo’s from Bruce Dern to Jonah Hill to Tom Wopat.
BUT, along with all that, you also get repeated use of the “n”- word (for those who are sensitive to that slang word), spectacular shots of ultra-violence that are, in my opinion, way, WAY overdone like slave beatings, torture, and ripping….well, you get the picture. Tarantino says he knows how “controversial” his movie is and relishes in the reverse-publicity it’ll generate. Personally, I think he’s gone “Tarantino-happy”; so convinced that he’s such a great writer/director, that he can’t make a bad film. Dude, I’d be careful you don’t become hoisted on your own petard!
*Look for Franco Nero, who played the original Django in the Italian 1966 film, to show up in a small part as Candie’s business friend. Pretty cool.
SKIN GAME (1971)
Back in 1971, James Garner and Louis Gossett, Jr made a comedy-western about slavery, if you can believe that. Yes, a comedy about slavery! Up until then, I thought that only Disney’s “Song of the South” was a happy movie about slaves and slavery.
Anyway, in this comedy a white con man (Garner) called either Quincy Drew or Capt. Nathaniel Mountjoy (depending on the situation) has teamed up with a “slave” named Jason O’Rourke…only this “slave” isn’t really a slave, he’s actually a FREE man born in New Jersey, very well educated, and who’s only posing to be a slave to run a con on slave buyers!
Here’s the griff: Drew (Garner) and O’Rourke (Gossett) travel from town to town in the South during the slavery era. As Drew gets the bidding rolling, he sells O’Rourke to the highest bidder. The plantation owner takes O’Rourke away (who later escapes or gets rescued), and the two later meet up to split the profit and move on to another town. Funny, huh? The twist comes when O’Rourke is sold to a slave trader (Ed Asner) who is savvy to their con and intent on taking them down for good.
The movie was a such a hit that three years later a TV movie (called “Sidekicks”) was remade recasting Gosset again as O’Rourke, but starring Larry Hagman as Drew. Seems like a dumb idea to do, but that’s showbiz!