Written by Sophie Butcher
Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s debut in the Western genre, or as he calls it, the ‘Southern’. It is set two years before the Civil War in a Deep South rife with the slave trade. Django (Foxx) is freed by German dentist-turned-bounty-hunter Dr. King Schulz (Waltz) so as to assist him in finding his next targets, the three Brittle brothers. After a prosperous winter of vigilante justice, they set off to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (Washington) from sickly sweet plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).
Everything is good here; the soundtrack is effortlessly cool, the acting incredible, the tension unbearable and the comedy brilliant.
Django is full of Western iconography, with plenty of swooping camera angles, pistols drawn from hips and close ups of beer spilling over tankards. Tarantino is the master of switching the atmosphere between the laugh-out-loud and the downright frightening, including a memorable scene at Calvin Candie’s dinner table.
Speaking of Candie, Leonardo DiCaprio’s sycophantic monster is the highlight of the film. He brings a slimy unease to the screen, and there is always the sense of rage and psychosis simmering under the overly polite exterior. He is like a petulant boy at times and a heartless villain at others, and him and Samuel L. Jackson as the devoted Stephen make for a great comedic pairing.
As for the ‘good guys’, Christoph Waltz is excellent as always, pulling off reels of smart dialogue effortlessly as well as truly emotional moments between him and Django. Jamie Foxx does well as the vengeful slave, showing a real progression through the film from someone unable to read and too sympathetic to fire a fatal bullet, to a convincing hero who is as resourceful as the German who unchained him. Foxx has a real physical presence and has you rooting for him, but gets a bit lost surrounded by massive performances by those around him.
The character that let it down was Django’s wife Broomhilda, played by the beautiful Kerry Washington. She’s very much a damsel-in-distress for the whole film which gets a bit wearing, but in terms of the story she couldn’t really be anything else. A German fairytale is at the center of the plot, with Django playing a ‘real life Siegfried’ who dodges a fearsome dragon and walks through hellfire to save his beloved Broomhilda, simply because ‘she’s worth it’.
One thing to be warned of is the violence. This is, of course, a Tarantino film, so expect the usual cartoonish gunfights and lashings of spurting red stuff, but there is also some pretty gruesome scenes involving dogs, whippings and a particularly brutal ‘Mandingo fight’. It isn’t anything an over-18 audience can’t handle, but it will have you wincing in your seat (which is, of course, the point). The director has faced slavery head on, and made the unthinkable racism the real horror of the film.
The film is most definitely a triumph and is seriously enjoyable to watch, but, we hate to say it, it is long. Really long. Although the ending is certainly gratifying and worth the wait, it feels like it should come about half an hour before it actually does. Despite that, it will definitely be one we’ll watch again and again!
Not our favourite Tarantino, but still utterly brilliant. We give it 5 out of 5.
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