Film review: Django UnchainedBy Kim Francis
January 23, 2013
Former video store worker Quentin Tarantino loves movies. A fan of fringe cinema and obscure genres, most of his films have been made in homage to films he holds dear.
Jackie Brown, for instance, was made in honour of the Blaxploitation genre, while Kill Bill revisited the Kung Fu movie and Death Proof paid its respects to the Grindhouse (or Exploitation) genre. Pulp Fiction, meanwhile… well, the clue is in the title.
With Django Unchained, the maverick director takes on the Spaghetti Western.
One thing all these genres have in common is ultra-violence. At least with Tarantino, you know what you’re getting.
But despite all his movies sharing this obsession with bloodshed – as well as featuring his signature snappy dialogue and various other recurring characteristics – each new Tarantino release is met with fervent anticipation.
He’s one of the most important and exciting directors working in Hollywood today – not least because he’s allowed to do exactly what he wants to do.
Although this sometimes means there’s nobody to yank the reins when it might be needed, in Django Unchained he’s arguably made one of his most focussed, least flabby movies.
The titular Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave in America’s pre-Civil War Deep South. When dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) procures him under unusual circumstances, the loquacious German anti-slave trade ‘flesh-for-cash’ man promises to make Django a free man once he’s helped him track down a criminal gang with prices on their heads.
As Django proves himself an excellent marksman and natural partner for Dr Schultz, the two forge a bond, and when Django’s heartrending tale of his enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) touches Schultz, he vows to help find her and bring them back together.
This leads them to white supremacist Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) - a man who deals and delights in slave (or ‘Mandingo’) fighting - and he isn’t going to let his German-speaking slave go easily.
DiCaprio proves his versatility, oozing menace as the outwardly charming but utterly detestable plantation owner, while frequent Tarantino collaborator Samuel L Jackson is great as Candie’s equally odious right hand man, Stephen.
The pair of them amount to the most interesting relationship in the film.
And while Jamie Foxx is workmanlike in the main role, just as Christoph Waltz stole the show in Tarantino’s previous feature Inglourious Basterds, so he totally owns Django Unchained.
He wraps his Viennese German tongue delectably around Tarantino’s dialogue and his delivery is delicious.
This bloody, violent mash-up of Blaxploitation flick and Spaghetti Western has plenty to say about America’s shameful past and does so in Tarantino’s typically powerful, packing-a-punch way, but at times it feels like he’s doing his best to undo it.
Moments of broad humour rub uncomfortably against the film’s content and messages lessening - undermining, even - the impact of what it’s trying to say. And the least said about Quentin Tarantino’s woeful cameo, the better.
But don’t let that put you off. Django Unchained is unflinching, and it’s a rewarding watch.