Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Walton Goggins
Running time: 165 minutes
Django (Foxx), freed from slavery by German bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz (Christoph Waltz), is on a mission to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of the venomous Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). First, though, he must prove his worth to Shultz by spending a long, bloody winter in the bounty hunting business.
I haven’t just been waiting for this film since I read the news in April 2011 that Quentin Tarantino had handed his brand new western script to Harvey Weinstein. No, I’ve been waiting for this film since I first saw Pulp Fiction way back when I was probably too young to have done so, and was blown away by just how stylish, clever and downright entertaining it was. From that moment on I was officially hooked on Tarantino, enjoying every one of his films (yes, even Death Proof), but always waiting for that elusive western that he had regularly admitted was his favourite genre, and had so often referenced throughout his career, from Mexican standoffs to Morricone soundtracks to shot for shot reenactments. Even the title of Django Unchained is itself a reference to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 bloody flick Django. But now it’s finally here: a spaghetti western from Quentin Tarantino. God, it feels good just writing that.
It’s quite a spectacular cast. Waltz returns to effortlessly spouting Tarantino’s dialogue in a role that was pretty much written for him, this time turning in a virtuosic performance that perhaps even betters his portrayal of evil Nazi Colonel Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. DiCaprio is fantastic as the villain of the piece – a role we’ve never seen him play before. He gives Candie a menacingly volatile edge, shifting between falsely polite to screaming maniac effortlessly. Foxx, while perhaps not giving the most standout performance of his career, plays Django perfectly. Starting out quiet, reserved and sympathetic before turning into a cool, slick and slightly arrogant badass. But the special shout out here must go to Samuel L. Jackson, playing expertly the truly wretched Stephen. As Candie’s servant and right hand man, he provides a bunch of laughs, but also sets off the chain of events that lead to the bloody and mad third act – and what a cracking third act it is.
Django is QT’s longest film yet, clocking in at an epic 165 minutes, but it’s also ironically his most reined in. There’s a discipline present in Django that’s been missing from his last few movies, in the sense that, despite the length, this isn’t just full-on, uncontrolled Tarantino. And I don’t meant that as a criticism of Inglourious Basterds, Death Proof or Kill Bill – just that they’re probably less accessible to ‘first timers’ than the likes of Jackie Brown, Reservoir Dogs, or now, Django Unchained, because in the former films Tarantino is going completely full throttle with the style he established in the latter, which might just be a bit too much if you’re not used to it. If you’re familiar with Radiohead, think of it as deciding which album to first recommend to someone who’s never listened to them before. Of course, there’s still plenty of QT flair in Django, but importantly it doesn’t shy away from dealing seriously with the sensitive subject matter. Tarantino steps back when he has to.
The continual use of the “n” word isn’t as controversial as some think. Django tells it like it is; that’s how the country was back then and there’s no escaping it. If all the characters walked around sugar coating their dialogue we just wouldn’t believe what we were seeing. We wouldn’t believe they were telling the real story. And the film never makes using the word look “cool”, if that’s what some people are worried about.
The ‘D’ is slient…
Going back to the length, this has been one of the regular (but few) criticisms of the film. While it does result in some serious numb-bum, I have to admit it didn’t bother me at all – I was just having too much fun. Because despite the subject matter, this is probably QT’s funniest film yet. Some exchanges between Django and Shultz are genius, a scene involving the KKK arguing about their head bags is just priceless, and every word that comes out of Don Johnson’s mouth is gold.
Django does fit into the QT-verse, but only with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment – not nearly as obvious as the previous connections between his films. If you want to try and spot it for yourself, skip this paragraph. There’s a moment in the film when Shultz looks at a wanted poster, and one of the names is Crazy Craig Koons, as in a descendant of Christopher Walken’s Captain Koons from Pulp Fiction. It’s these little attentions to detail that I love. Similar to Pixar and Aardman pictures, Tarantino always riddles his films with little easter eggs so as to give the viewer new things to look for with each viewing. And as usual, Tarantino’s selection of music is as iconic and anachronistic as ever. While it probably doesn’t belong, only he could make hip hop work in a story about slavery set in the 1850s.
No review of Django Unchained would be quite complete without mentioning Tarantino’s cameo. I’ve always thought he was a pretty decent actor. He’s crops up regularly in his own movies as well as others, often not doing anything special but being perfectly efficient. His performance in From Dusk Till Dawn is quite excellent, though, and his joke in Desperado is wonderfully delivered, and when he appeared on screen in Django I loved it…until he started speaking. In an “Aussie” accent. It didn’t work. Let’s move on.
Another wildly entertaining romp from Tarantino. It won’t entirely work for everyone, but it’s his most accessible film for some time. Witty, outrageous fun.