Django Unchained

Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo di Caprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson.
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 165 mins. Reviewed in Jan 2013
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Strong violence, strong coarse language, nudity

It’s twenty years since Reservoir Dogs and Quentin Tarantino’s making an instant impact on critics and the public. He won the Cannes Palme D’Or two years later with Pulp Fiction and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. ‘Tarantinoesque’ became a frequently used word in describing not only his films but those which imitated his sardonic style as well as his blood-spurting sequences. With a career that produces a film every two or three years or so (Jackie Brown, the Kill Bill series), he is still a stylish director, a clever writer (a moderate actor, here with his faux Australian accent) and someone who knows and pays homage to a wide range of genre movies as well as an eclectic taste for his musical scores.

All of this is particularly true of Django Unchained (with acknowledgement of the 1966 Italian Django, with Franco Nero, who guest appears here). It is a Western, it is a bounty hunter tale, it is a film of Southern racism in the years prior to the Civil War, it is a condemnation of slavery, it has some Mandingo sequences. And all as a tribute to Spaghetti Westerns, allusions to the films of Sergio Leone, though this time the man has a name, Django, and he is black. There is even some Ennio Morricone music and songs.

For those a touch wary of Tarantino and blood, the major part of the film does have some shootings and beatings but not as graphically seen as before. But… there is an apocalyptic shootout towards the end, large body count and blood. And, but… that was not the ending we thought it might be, there is another shootout and a concluding, really apocalyptic conflagration.

As storytelling goes, there is plenty of plot, mainly about a German bounty hunter who frees a slave, Django, and together they go hunting murderers and robbers – dead or alive. There are some serious and some funny sequences, especially the mocking of the Ku Klux Klan (led by Don Johnson with Jonah Hill in tow) as they go on a raid and have a loopy argument about how well the holes have been cut in their hoods. The two bounty hunters get involved in some cliff-hanging crises which seem impossible to get out of – but they do.

Most of the action takes place on a Mississippi plantation, presided over by Monsieur Caddie, who indulges in Mandingo fights and is advised, even supervised, by his obsequious black slave, Stephen.

Time to talk aabout the cast. Jamie Foxx showed his effectiveness in his Oscar-winning role as Ray Charles in Ray. Here he is a fine, strong presence, a bewildered slave who has lost his wife, who is taken on as a valet (dressed in sky blue), then a partner (dressed like a Western’s hero), a free man, who has learned to read, to be shrewd, determined to find his wife. Christoph Waltz is the dentist become bounty hunter. His career was made by Tarantino in his Cannes-winning, Oscar-winning role as the SS officer in Inglourious Basterds. Waltz has more than acknowledged his debt in a very arresting performance. He has lots of wry remarks, is pedantic about his vocabulary and generates a lot of humour even in dangerous situations. He is very good.

Leonardo di Caprio is Monsieur Caddie, a presumptuous brat plantation owner. Interesting to see how well he does a villain. Samuel L. Jackson is the slave adviser, currying favour with his master – and often over-the-top in his performance. Kerry Washington is Django’s wife. In the supporting cast there are lots of character actors whom Tarantino obviously admires. Even John Jarratt is there (Australian accent and all) – Tarantino must admire Wolf Creek.

Very clever film-making for Tarantino admirers – but it may not make many converts.

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