Quentin Tarantino is a master of pulp cinema, meaning his works ("Inglourious Basterds," "Pulp Fiction") are unabashedly B-movies, awash in exaggeration and hyperbole, fearless in their subject matter, and graphic in their violence.
"Django Unchained," is no exception. It is brutal, dark, funny, profane and eminently watchable.
Tarantino relishes creating a story wherein good and evil are clearly defined, absent all ambiguity, one in which the narrative arc is brutally retributive. In "Inglourious Basterds," it was the Nazis who were the embodiment of 20th-century evil — men who remorselessly sent millions to work camps (nay death camps), where they were put to death.
For all of its spaghetti Western embellishment, reminiscent of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, Tarantino's "Django" brings into stark relief the monstrous realities of slavery as well as the morally corrupt and relentlessly rapacious slave owners, to include those who did their bidding.
And thus having identified evil, Tarantino, with relish, establishes the film's structure and plot. A slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), is saved by one Dr. King Schultz (Christop Waltz), posing as an itinerant dentist. He is, in reality, a bounty hunter looking for three wanted men, the Brittle brothers. Django can identify them and so is useful to Schultz, hence they strike a bargain: Django will point out the men when they find them, and Schultz will help Django locate his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who has been branded and sold to Calvin Candie, owner of Candyland, a massive plantation.
Together, Schultz — erudite, cultured, and ruthless — and Django — transformed into a natural gunfighter — cut a wide swath of carnage and mayhem through the antebellum South (the year is 1858), killing wanted overseers for profit, beginning with the Brittle brothers.
Finally, they arrive at Candyland, posing as slave buyers. And its there that Tarantino reveals the malevolent and depraved nature of slavery and how completely it was embedded in the South, and accepted in all its dehumanizing forms without question or hesitation by those who benefitted from it.
And it wasn't just the white owners whose souls became malformed and monstrous. Calvin's house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a step-'n'-fetch-it poseur, is as fully prepared to treat those slaves in his charge with a malignant cruelty as is his owner, who regards all blacks on the plantation as property (the n-word is used liberally throughout the film), to be bought and sold or killed as deemed necessary.
It is all but impossible to watch "Django Unchained" and not think of Spielberg's "Lincoln." The former is awash in bold colors, the set pieces blatant and harsh and delivered without restraint. "Lincoln," in contrast, is muted, subtle and shadowed. But after watching "Django" it is excruciatingly clear why it was worth fighting a Civil War in order to excise what was once referred to, endearingly, as "our peculiar institution." And why, as shown in "Lincoln," any political machinations were justified in order to pass the 13th Amendment and thereby abolish slavery.