Go see this movie. Go see it now. Go with your family, your aunts and your cousins and that one uncle you always fight with about gay marriage. Go on Christmas Day, after the orgy of gift-giving and monstrous eating has passed, and all you want to do is watch something, anything, so you can stop talking to people you’re related to. Get in your car and go right now.
Because if this movie, about the eponymous freed slave who rescues his enslaved wife from the clutches of a villainous Leo DiCaprio, isn’t the feel-good holiday movie of the year, then I don’t know what is.
Written and Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
It’s a Tarantino movie through-and-through. It’s just a little too long, and there’s one scene that’s a little too self-indulgent, but other than that it’s graphic, bloody perfection. It’s a revenge thriller/spaghetti Western/historical fiction that has elements of 70’s exploitation film, John Woo-style gunfights and ancient myth. Because one genre is just not enough sometimes to tell a good story.
Christoph Waltz, as Django’s (Jamie Foxx) bounty hunter mentor and personal emancipator solidified himself as both a member of Tarantino’s acting crew and a stunning performer in his own right. Waltz, with his marvelous German-inflected voice and air of chipperness and sensibility that was so creepily utilized as the Nazi in “Inglorious Basterds” is inverted here as the truly lovable King Schultz, and the perfect foil to Foxx’s taciturn lead character. As for Foxx, he positively radiates cool, embodying every quiet cowboy forced to violence since a baby-faced John Wayne appeared on screen in “Stagecoach.” You cannot take your eyes off him.
Everyone brings their best to the table, not uncommon for Tarantino’s casts. DiCaprio, in his first truly villainous role as the hilariously named slaveowner Calvin Candie is involved in pretty much every form of slavery-related evil there is- a student of phrenology who keeps “comfort girls” and manages a competitive “Mandingo fighting” ring…which is exactly what you think it is. By his side is a nearly-unrecognizable Samuel L Jakson playing the world’s most odious Uncle Tom, and Kerry Washington plays Django’s lovely trapped Broomhilda in a small but steely role.
There’s a level of bravery it takes to make a movie like this, especially for a white filmmaker. Spike Lee recently tweeted his ire at Tarantino treating slavery as a Sergio Leone movie. But most movies about slavery have either been apologist (“Gone With the Wind”), focused on white abolitionists (“Amistad”) or only discussed slavery in the context of the Civil War (“Glory”). “Roots” was almost 40 years ago. Is it not time for America to revisit that unpleasant portion of our past, and maybe even make the black guy the hero? Tarantino doesn’t glorify the brutality of slavery, but more importantly he doesn’t flinch from it. And even more importantly he allows the viewers of all races the chance to watch Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz shoot their way through the antebellum South with no mercy and less regret. Just like how our heroes in “Basterds” got to machine gun Hitler. Just because it’s not true doesn’t mean it’s not satisfying.
So goodness, go see it! This is a violent world and maybe after the past few weeks you don’t want to see a bloodbaths on a cotton plantation. I understand that. It’s a vain exercise in moral certitude in a world where that kind of certainty seems more and more impossible. But for myself I can’t imagine a better Christmas gift.