Quentin Tarantino sets his sights on the spaghetti western and delivers on the talky, ultra-violent bombast expected of him in the entertaining and confronting Django Unchained.
20 years into a mega-successful career and Tarantino still feels compelled to pay homage to the films and filmmakers who have influenced him. Forever the film-buff, Tarantino’s interpretations on genre cinema is filled with nods to classics gone-by that other cinephile’s will applaud (or roll their eyes at) and novices will chalk up to originality (something that Tarantino’s films are certainly not).
Much like Inglorious Basterds (Tarantino’s WWII revisionist film), Django Unchained borrows its title from a little seen cult movie (Django, starring Franco Nero who makes a cameo here) and like …Basterds Nazi’s, Tarantino takes aim and fires at another group of true-life scumbag villains: pre Civil-war slave owners.
The film focuses on freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) who under the tutelage of German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) hatches a scheme to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Like many of Tarantino’s films, revenge is a driving factor for his protagonist. But here Tarantino skirts controversy, with the issue of slavery in pre-Civil war America still very raw.
Where Django… features plenty of the stylised violence which is part of the Tarantino package, some scenes carry more weight than others with Tarantino not backing off on the brutal treatment given to African Americans during that part of American history. Every rattle of chain, every crack of the whip on flesh and every N-word is felt as the humiliatingly sadistic and inhumane acts of violence that they are.
Out of this comes a character in Django who would have suited the 1970s Blaxploitation scene well but is fresh in the current cinema landscape, a man of quiet strength who stands up to his persecutors with Foxx foregoing his natural charisma for a more earthy and angry performance.
With that comes the fact that Django is also one of the least flashy of Tarantino’s creations. Picking up the slack in the biz-bang department is a supporting cast who deliver Tarantino’s always tremendously good dialogue with the type of spirited gusto that makes a QT joint so enjoyable.
Christopher Waltz (the only actor to thus far win an Oscar in a Tarantino film) fills his role of the well-spoken bounty hunter with charm, intelligence and a wicked wit; Leonardo DiCaprio is ferocious as the brutal and sophisticated plantation owner (his handling of a lengthy Tarantino monologue superb); and Samuel L. Jackson is both hilarious and detestable as a head slave who is as racist as his white “master”.
There are problems with Django…, to be sure. Clocking in at 165 minutes the film is unnecessarily long. Then there is Tarantino’s insistence of casting himself in his films, this time butchering an Australian accent as an outlaw from down under.
Yet minor are these digressions in the grand scheme of Tarantino’s epic spaghetti western cum revenge tale, with Django Unchained an entertaining and confronting movie that is unique in voice and tone.
Interestingly, it also continues Tarantino’s quest as a cinematic avenger with slave traders now joining Nazi’s on top of Tarantino’s large pile of corpses. With history filled with evil men doing evil things, one can only imagine who Tarantino will place in his well versed crosshairs next.