Despite asinine comments by Quentin Tarantino, who has called our present criminal-justice arrangements “slavery through and through,” and Jamie Foxx, who has boasted that “I kill all the white people” in the Tarantino-directed Django Unchained, the movie isn’t especially inflammatory about race.
The title character, an ex-slave, doesn’t kill all the white people. In fact, his best friend and co-hero is a white, European dentist turned bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar as the dapper but terrifying Nazi colonel in Inglourious Basterds. Moreover, one of the chief villains of Django is played, in a surprise, by Samuel L. Jackson as a house slave who despises Django with a fury that makes him a perfect match for the wicked plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) for whom he works.
Mostly, the movie is an incredibly violent, incredibly long, and often very funny popcorn picture with its roots in both spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and blaxploitation movies of the 1970s. The quintessentially Tarantino moment comes when racist whites seeking to kill Django and his dentist friend form a posse of rough riders with bags over their heads (presaging the Ku Klux Klan) in 1858. The vigilante group (including former Miami Vice star Don Johnson as an easily outsmarted plantation boss and Jonah Hill in a cameo) falls into squabbling over a dispute about the craftsmanship of the bags. It’s a hilarious disquisition reminiscent of the argument about Madonna in Reservoir Dogs or the details of dining at a French McDonald’s in Pulp Fiction.
Other scenes in the movie may remind you of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Searchers, but the closest resemblance is to…. Blazing Saddles. Just as Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little joined forces as equals and shocked racists in Mel Brooks’ 1972 comedy (which was co-written by Richard Pryor), Waltz and Foxx make for a fine pair of gunslingers who don’t care what haters think of their friendship. They wander the South getting in and out of trouble as they search for Django’s wife (Kerry Washington), who is being tortured at the evil plantation run by Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). Django, a former slave, has received his freedom and a new job as bounty hunter courtesy of King Schultz (Waltz), who needs Django’s help in recognizing three men whom Schultz will receive a hefty fee for killing.