Just when I was tiring of Tarantino he puts a bullet through my heart, a hammer through my skull, and then blows me away with dynamite for good measure. Django Unchained is a film we’ve never seen the likes of before. It has everything: thrills, spills, highs, lows, horror, romance, spectacle, melodrama, and tenderness. (And of course - this being Tarantino - plenty of outrageous violence.) It also provides some big (unexpected) belly laughs I’d not experienced in the director’s ouevre since Marvin got his head blown off in the car.
It is 1858 and Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave. A fortuitous turn of events “somewhere in Texas” brings him to Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter. They form a lucrative partnership killing “white folks for money”. Schultz agrees to help Django locate and rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from whom he was forcibly separated. Their search takes them to a Mississippi plantation, owned by the despicable Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
This is a spaghetti western steeped in the mores of the genre. It is bombastic, overtly-stylised, and a little bit trashy. The kicker being that it is set against a very realistic backdrop of ugly and brutal slave trading in the South. I never expected to be so moved by this. Obviously, QT is to thank for such bravura film-making but slavery is a subject I am relatively unfamiliar with on-screen. This sudden and intense exposure had a very profound effect. The horrors of slavery, as they should be, make for a deeply uncomfortable watch. This genre flick hits home the truths far more effectively than any 'message film' could.
For me, personally, Inglourious Basterds didn’t hang together sufficiently. Almost every scene of that film can be judged on its own merits as ingenious. But it lacked continuity. With a similar hip-hop sensibility - mixing a plethora of contrasting elements to create an original commodity – here, the director creates something sublime. Tarantino's soundtrack decisions have helped. Shirking his normal insistence on using only previously-commissioned material he mixes the new (like a stunning John Legend track and a blistering James Brown/Tupac mash-up) with the old to spectacular effect. Unlike some, the length didn’t bother me. The only critic I really trust on these matters is my bony behind. When it starts to ache that’s an unmistakable sign that a film is too long. But there were no complaints for the 2hr 45 min duration.
Jamie Foxx’s nuanced performance marks a beautiful transition from proud slave to iceberg-cool badass. Waltz is a joy to watch and, perhaps more notably, to hear – with his enunciated patter – navigating a path through a sea of unintelligible hicks. Foxx and Waltz are a comedic double act and an awe-inspiring team of gun-slingers. Their relationship is also very touching. QT displays a tenderness I’d never experienced in any of his films previously. In this, his first role as a villain, Leonardo DiCaprio is staggeringly vile. While each performance from this distinguished cast is impeccable the real star of the show is Tarantino himself.
Don't miss it on the big screen.