Django Unchained * * * *
Director: Quentin Tarantino.
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Walter Goggins, James Remar, James Russo, Dennis Christopher, Laura Cayouette, Don Stroud, M. C. Gainey, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, James Parks, Michael Parks, John Jarratt, Quentin Tarantino, Bruce Dern, Franco Nero.
Few director’s can claim such enthusiasm upon the release of their new film but Quentin Tarantino is certainly one of them. There’s always a real buzz and anticipation to see what provocative and sensationalist material he’ll be serving up. So, back he comes and once again he has revenge on his mind. This time it’s not with Samurai’s or Nazi’s but with six-shooter gunslinging as he heads West (or south, as the case may be) to pay homage to the films of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. This being the most renowned, creative (or plagiaristic) auteur behind the camera, though, he just can’t help himself, and infuses it with all sorts of influences. And the results? The results are highly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.
In the American South, two years before the civil war, former dentist now bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) free’s a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who will be able to help him track down three outlaws known as ‘the Brittle brothers’. As their relationship develops, Schultz learns of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is now the property of ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and they both hatch a plan to free her.
Depictions of slavery have been commonplace throughout the history of cinema. The television show of Alex Haley’s “Roots” in 1977 was one of the first to have a major impact on audiences and Steven Spielberg gave a harrowing introduction of it in his 1997 film “Amistad“. Despite some distressing early scenes in that film, though, Spielberg decided to focus more on the legal issues involved and it progressed into a courtroom drama. Here, Tarantino chooses differently and doesn’t pull any punches. He depicts the brutality these people faced with daring and damning conviction. As always, controversy has followed. It uses racially aggressive language throughout but although Tarantino isn’t known for his entire commitment to historical events, his attention to detail here is fitting and even though it’s been criticised from others (mainly Spike Lee who refuses to even watch it) it has, in Tarantino’s words, created a “dialogue” amongst people about the seriousness of this dark chapter of American history. If one positive is to be taken from this film, it’s that. These heinous events should be addressed and it would seem that Quentin is the only one willing to do it. Personally, I applaud him.
Like most (if not all) of Tarantino’s films, when the actors are verbalising the work of his quill the results become an oratory dance with dialogue. On the surface, this doesn’t have as many quotable lines as his previous works but where Tarantino has improved, is in keeping a scene running with endless wordplay and skilfully teasing a tentative audience. There are memorable and quotable lines here, for sure, but his maturity now lies in drawing out the almost unbearable tension between his characters. His past movies have always contained riveting dialogues but “Inglorious Basterds” was proof that he’d taken it further and could craft masterful scenes of suspense. This is no different, and it’s helped immeasurably by the actors involved; Foxx delivers some solid work as the titular character but has little to do in the earlier part of the film and, if truth be told, he gets overshadowed by three sublime supporting performances (who incidentally had their roles written specifically for them); Waltz is, simply, superb and a similar breed to his character Hans Landa from “Inglorious Basterds“. He’s just as loquacious but, only this time, more endearing; DiCaprio acts up a storm with a rare villainous role who is prone to fits of sadistic and uncontrollable rage and Jackson is perfectly fitting as his dedicated servant who is a conniving and twisted individual. It’s in these superb actors that most of the enjoyment is found in Tarantino’s latest. Although the subject matter is dark and the violence vividly displayed, the story’s not without humour and one particularly satirical scene involving the Ku Klux Klan and their inability to see through their makeshift hoods is absolutely hilarious. It also looks magnificent with cinematographer Robert Richardson capturing the vast and desolate landscapes to perfection.
Even though they are slight, the film is not without faults. Over-length is an issue with some scenes that could have been trimmed without compromising the overall impact and, at times, there was too much reliance on convenience in some plot developments. Still, when it’s the ingenuity of Tarantino at the helm, these minuscule misjudgements can be overlooked as the journey itself is so enjoyable.
A parody of Spaghetti-Western, with humour, violence and blaxploitation. If anyone can make this work, Tarantino can. And that he does. This is another impressive addition to his canon and even though the “D” may be silent, his artistic voice is, most certainly, not.