Five Things About 'Django Unchained' You Need to Know

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen in Django Unchained (2012)

The standout Supporting Actor performance from Django belongs not to Leonardo DiCaprio...

#1. Samuel L. Jackson gives what might be his finest acting performance. Yes, Leonardo DiCaprio just won the Best Supporting Actor award from the National Board of Review for playing Calvin Candie, the film’s major heavy, and while that is a terrific choice, the standout Supporting Actor performance from Django belongs to Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen.

Playing Calvin’s house slave henchman and de facto father figure, Jackson is equal part plotting, murderous and grotesque Uncle Remus caricature, part destroyed and hollowed old husk of a man. Stephen is a man who has had to learn how to survive an ugly world at any cost. Jackson plays him far beyond stereotype, riffing on racist character types throughout film history and then elevating the characterization with a bracing hint of menace, he provides an unexpected, dangerous twist at every turn and never goes in the direction you think he will.

With a nimbus of white hair and thick white eyebrows bearing down on his haunted eyes, old age makeup and a very distinct manner of speaking, Jackson turns in possibly his most completely immersive character performance that incorporates the best of what we have come to expect from Samuel L Jackson – the wise-cracking, foulmouthed and foul-tempered criminal that we saw him so expertly play in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown -- but on a completely exciting and higher-stakes level. As he showed recently with his incredibly sensitive work in Mother and Child, Jackson has really been pushing himself as of late as an actor and that drive to show something new hiding within what we thought was familiar is clear with his portrayal of Stephen.

He is working in variations, "Samuel L. Jackson" is one theme, the iconography of black cinema is another. This kind of commanding work should be recognized.

#2. Like Jackson, Quentin Tarantino keeps getting better. More focused, more refined in filmmaking technique, Django represents a continuation of Tarantino’s mature, formal style that could be easily compared with the obvious D.W. Griffiths and Clint Eastwoods of the world; yet it could be argued that the King Vidors, John Hustons and the Luchino Viscontis are just as evident in Tarantino’s visual storytelling. Django Unchained represents contemporary classic filmmaking, with intelligence brimming over not only in Tarantino’s understanding of the language of cinema, but also in his understanding and juxtaposition of what race, class and gender meant in the slavery-era Antebellum South and what they mean now. He looks at how these politics may or may not have evolved. He quite provocatively asks his audience to come to their own conclusions.

Everyone’s answer will be different, and no one will be let off the hook. This is the mark of a master filmmaker, to create such wide-ranging dialogs.

#3. The design of the film is stunning. From the camerawork, to the detailed and meticulous period costumes, to the especially-inventive art direction – each of these key elements of Django Unchained’s design are impeccable and imaginative.

#4. Kerry Washington’s enigmatic Broomhilda Washington gets to do something very interesting in Django that Tarantino has experimented with in other films: she is a truly multilingual character. For the first act of the film, Washington basically plays Broomhilda without words. We must believe the love that she and her husband share that ties that story together, and the abhorrent conditions that are keeping her apart from Django must be shown. Tarantino very cleverly has Washington convey everything in silence, in flashback, in fleeting glimpses. Broomhilda becomes a classic, literal traumfrauen, existing only in the ether of Django’s memories. We learn that she also speaks German, a novelty that provides Dr. Shultz (Christoph Waltz) with a way to get to her when he arrives at Candyland with Django.

There’s a bit between Washington and Waltz that's reminiscent of Waltz’s great scene as Hans Landa in the beginning of Inglorious Basterds where characters use a foreign language to keep a secret from anyone who might be listening in on the conversation. Lastly, Washington creates a unique sound and dialect for Broomhilda’s true speaking voice, laying down excellent vocal work with the assistance of Tarantino’s words. Her performance in the film is not to be underestimated and despite it’s relative quiet is actually quite furious upon closer inspection. Broomhilda goes through a dynamic range of experiences through the film’s course, many disturbing, but Washington wisely underplays and comes out of the film giving a memorable performance full of life and warmth.

#5. Don Johnson as Big Daddy No explanation needed there!

The Weinstein Company will release Django Unchained on December 25.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.