Release date: 24th January 2013

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson

Quentin Tarantino has been working his way towards making a western for quite some time now, and now that he finally has with ‘Django Unchained’ it’s expected that it’s unlike any other genre offering on hand.  Though this is perhaps his most mainstream effort ‘Django’ is still 100% Tarantino.  The spaghetti westerns of cinema’s past are clearly a field of adoration for the filmmaker as he incorporates several of their elements in his storytelling, but this is far more than a case of just combining these influences as he has managed to make one of his most powerful films by integrating a piece of dark American history into the proceedings – slavery.

Set during pre-Civil war times in the Deep South Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave found one night by Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist-turned-bounty hunter, who requires his assistance in identifying his soon-to-be next victims.  After a glorious first meeting, Waltz once again proving he’s a master at delivering Tarantino’s dialogue, the two set off together coming to the agreement that Django will assist Schultz on his bounty hunting duties throughout the winter, and once spring arrives he is able to live his life as a free man.  Django has other plans though and requires Schultz to aid in rescuing his slave wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who they learn is now retained by plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  A relatively straight forward storyline for most filmmakers, Tarantino manages to stretch his tale to an almost 3-hour running time without overstaying his welcome in the process.  There are no punches pulled in the depiction of slavery (the excessive use of the “n” word is enough to cause offense), despite the sometimes gleeful, almost satirical, portrayal of the plantation owners; Don Johnson as the aptly named Big Daddy being the prime example of a character both hilarious yet sadistic.  There’s also the violent element as the majority of the slaves are often used for Mandingo fights (essentially slave versus slave battles to the death) and we are subject to their brutality, though thankfully these fierce scenes never linger too long with Tarantino showing restraint on how much the audience witnesses.  He clearly has a lot to say about slavery and its cruelty but at the same time it provides him with the chance to rearrange history and allow a slave to turn the tables on those who would beat him; not entirely surprising given in ‘Inglorious Basterds’ he managed to stage a sequence where Adolf Hitler was shot to a pulp as a movie theatre blew up around him.

As is what seems to be tradition in a Tarantino film, the performances are all unanimously brilliant with no one performer delivering a fault.  As the titular Django Jamie Foxx seems tailor made for the role that allows the actor to sink his teeth in and deliver on both an emotional and physical level.  There’s a vicious rage and yet a sense of vulnerability at his core that make his portrayal all the more fascinating, and you can imagine he wouldn’t feel out of place in the Sergio Leone westerns of the 60’s.  Equally as brilliant is Christoph Waltz in his Oscar nominated role as Schultz who, despite his murderous profession, is perhaps the most compassionate character on hand, always ready to offer a reason as to why a particular person is or soon will be deceased.  The way he voices Tarantino’s words is like cinematic poetry as they effortlessly flow from his mouth, and, if like me, you will sit there in a state of elated anticipation waiting to hear what he will say next.  But our heroes are only seen as so due to their villainous opponents and the duo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson make Foxx and Waltz all the more likeable.  In a departure from his usual fare DiCaprio seems to relish playing evil as the colourfully named Calvin Candie, gnawing at the scenery just enough to keep in tone with the films theatricality but never crossing into caricature as one scene where he explains the three dimples on the back end of a human skull is the embodiment of terrifying.  And then there’s Jackson as Candie’s right-hand man/slave Stephen who amuses him with his sass whilst cutting down anyone who poses a threat.  Though he is Candie’s property we never feel sorry for him as he comes across as near-satanic and perhaps the truer evil of the two.  It’s one of the best things Jackson has ever done and how he was passed on an Oscar nomination is staggering as his taciturn gaze and malicious scowl stay with you long after.

The whole ensemble though is just superb with every player, no matter how small the part, seemingly tailor made for their on-screen counterpart.  Franco Nero, Michael Parks, James Remar, and M.C. Gainey are some of faces that film enthusiasts will get a kick out of spotting whilst the more recognisable names of John Jarratt and Jonah Hill manage extended cameos in two of the films more memorable sequences; the former as an exaggerated Australian in a third act moment that truly goes off with a bang whilst the latter is involved in a KKK invasion that hilariously highlights the blatant stupidity of that movement.

I know it seems as if all I’m doing is just waxing praise on ‘Django Unchained’ but honestly it’s hard not to as this is truly a cinematic experience like no other – I haven’t even begun on the soundtrack that blends a traditional score with modern day hip-hop with perfect fluency.  Only one month into the year and I can almost guarantee with certainty that this film will remain one of my top picks for 2013.  If you truly appreciate cinema I can’t think of any other film more worthy of your attention.

My rating 5/5 (Tarantino at his finest)

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