Review by Paul Bowler
After the critically mauled Death Proof proved to be a box office flop, and the flawed Inglorious Bastards, Quentin Tarantino makes a triumphant return to form in his brilliant homage to the spaghetti western genre with the satirical blaxplotation satire – Django Unchained. Inspired by Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film, Django, Tarantino’s blood-splattered western turns this tale of revenge into a sprawling epic that unashamedly plays to the director’s passion for the genre.
Set in the South two years before the Civil War, Django Unchained tells the story of the slave Django (Jamie Fox) who is freed from his chains by German bounty hunter Dr King Schiltz (Christopher Waltz) who needs his help to identify and track down the murderous Brittle brothers. On gaining his freedom, Django leans that his wife Bromhilda (Kerry Washington), who he lost to the slave trade, has fallen in this hands of the despicable plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio), and with Schiltz’s help Django sets out to rescue her.
Django Unchained assails you with its stark visuals right from the outset as the barren landscape of the old west stretches out before you. The blood red credits spill over the ultra-cool soundtrack as Tarantino’s unflinching portrayal of rampant racism sizzles in a heat haze of slapstick humour and gloriously stylised ultra violence.
As ever, Tarantino has chosen a superb cast, with Waltz (who won an Oscar for his role as a Nazi in Inglorious Bastards) giving a perfectly understated performance as the wily old dentist / bounty hunter, while Jamie Fox tempers the burning intensity of former slave Django with a selfless honour that leave his enemies sprawled in the dirt. Leonardo Di Caprio is fantastic as the sadistic Candie. His cruelty knows no bounds, endearing and charismatic one moment, cross him and you could soon find yourself being ripped limb from limb by a pack of dogs. There are some great cameos from Don Johnson, Tom Savini, Franco Nero, and even Tarantino himself, but all of them are overshadowed by Samuel L Jackson as Candie’s foul mouthed servant who is even more racist than his master.
The best scenes come early on as Django and Schiltz bond during their mission to find the Brittle brothers. Brilliantly shot, their exchanges are tinged with a mutual respect as Django fully embraces his freedom to kill white folk and make money for it.
In time honoured Tarantino fashion, Django Unchained pulls no punches and gives no quarter in its depiction of racism, with a script peppered with enough N-words to fly in the face of political correctness, the film will leave you reeling with its rapid fire dialogue and eye watering brutality. The jet black humour that brazenly slaps you in the face as Tarantino shows Ku Klux Klan members bitching amongst themselves about their poorly fitting hoods, Schiltz’s crazy looking wagon hides an explosive secret, and the way Django hones his gun fighting skills against a snowman sets up a brilliant payback for the films climatic showdown.
The gunfights are a spectacle of exploding scenery and gushing arteries, blazing a trail towards a no holds barred final act that sees Django wreak his revenge against those who have enslaved his wife and tortured him. Brimming with slow-motion shootouts and fantastic performances, Django Unchained is Tarantino’s longest film to date (165min), but it never feels overly padded or drawn out. Not one line is wasted or one bullet spent without driving Django’s quest to save his wife. Flashbacks convey raw emotion of Django’s plight, the suffering he has endured, and the phoenix like way he rises from the ashes of his defeat to rescue his wife is truly awe inspiring.
Django Unchained may not reach the dizzying heights of Tarantino’s former glories, but it is easily his most entertaining film in some time. Sure, tighter editing and a few cuts would have perhaps made it more palatable for some, but Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino as we love him best: bold, in your face, and courting controversy at every turn.