Thrilling, stylish, funny, brutal, superbly-acted, sharply written and wonderfully offensive
There are few directors in the world today, or even ever, whose name carries with it instantly recognisable traits that have people eagerly awaiting their next film, or even applying the name to films the filmmaker had nothing to do with but are stylistically similar. So when a new “Tarantino” film bursts onto the scene there is an extremely high level of expectation that goes with it, both in terms of its quality and its style. Considering it’s Quentin Tarantino glorious shootouts, dreaming up villains and crafting blood-soaked revenge plots are something that he has been doing for past 20 years now. So it’s surprising that it’s taken him this long to make a spaghetti western. By the look and feel of the film one can easily say that Quentin is in full nostalgia mode. The opening titles feature a forty-year-old Columbia logo, and bold red letters that are vintage ’60s. A soulful waltz of a theme song also recalls the ’60s and ’70s. A song from Ennio Morricone and fast zooms into scenes of slaves marching through a rocky desert make it look like an opening to a spaghetti western… but in this case it’s not a western, but a “southern.”
His first effort is so jaw-droppingly brilliant you feel like stringing him up from the nearest Joshua tree. He simply had no right to keep this under his Stetson for so long. Django Unchained is thrilling, stylish, funny, brutal, superbly-acted, sharply written and wonderfully offensive. It’s his most entertaining film since Pulp Fiction and the most devastating revision of the almost forgotten genre since Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars. Classic Hollywood westerns traded on highfalutin’ myths of American history, before Italian directors drowned the moral certainty in blood.
When Django is seen on horseback people are outraged, when he sits side by side with a white man in a saloon, there’s almost a riot. Even Christoph Waltz’s Dr King Shultz, a smooth-talking German bounty hunter, admits he only rescued him from a chain gang (in a virtuoso opening scene) for selfish reasons. As his targets are Django’s former owners, he offers the slave a deal.
Help him identify them and not only will he give him his freedom but he will make him a partner in his business. “Kill white folks and they pay you for it?” Django replies. “What’s not to like?” Foxx makes a great gunslinger and Waltz is a hilarious sidekick, mostly replaying his “Jew Hunter” character from Quentin’s patchy previous film Inglourious Bastards.
This time he’s one of the good guys, delightfully running rings around the thick, racist Yanks with his wordy monologues. But he shouldn’t have been the only star of this bold film to receive a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Leonardo DiCaprio is just as impressive as sadistic, plantation-owning Southern gentleman Calvin Candie.
And Samuel L. Jackson shouldn’t have missed out for his brave turn as scheming “house slave” Stephen. Jackson is breathtaking. His fake limp, Uncle Ben hair and loud professions of loyalty to his master brilliantly mask a ruthless desire to keep his fellow slaves in their places.
The plot sees our heroes tricking their way into Candie’s grim plantation (chillingly called Candyland) in a bid to save Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a German-speaking slave and Django’s wife. Before a stunning, blood-spattered showdown, Tarantino takes us on some thrilling diversions. There’s some Blazing Saddles-style slapstick involving useless early Klan members, shootouts drenched in fountains of fake blood and countless geeky movie in-jokes. At two hours 45 minutes, this is a long film but it flies by.
Overall it’s a mature film from a wonderfully childish director.