Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Running time: 165 minutes
Two years before the American Civil War, a German bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) to help him find criminal bounty. As a reward he helps Django find his slave wife Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) who is owned by Mississipi planation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
‘As in all of Tarantino’s best films, there is a strange and brilliant magic at work here; a dark, bubbling alchemy of art and junk.’ Daily Telegraph
‘It’s a big, crazy, hugely entertaining, multilayered piece of filmmaking – a fierce but fiercely intelligent testament to Tarantino’s frequently questioned filmmaking proclivities and certainly among the best films he’s made.’ Scotsman
‘Django Unchained has mislaid its melancholy, and its bitter wit, and become a raucous romp. It is a tribute to the spaghetti Western, cooked al dente, then cooked a while more, and finally sauced to death.’ New Yorker
Exploding blood bags and prosthetic body parts are signature props in any Quentin Tarantino film and there are plenty of them in his latest movie. Blood and guts co-star in every scene with Tarantino’s familiar humour, his capacity to shock, his liberal awareness, his joy in popular cultural history, this time the Spaghetti Western, and his instinctive grasp for the art of film. His latest film is also his best for some time where all of these elements fit happily together in equilibrium making Django a comedy, a horror movie and a piece of powerful social commentary. I loved it.
There is still a jeu d’esprit in Tarantino that, I assume, was there in his childhood when he first dreamed of becoming a fim director. He obviously loves playing with the toys available to any director and with each new film he delights in each new game. His joy is infectious and when I saw the film, last Saturday, the audience responded with real pleasure. How did he blow off that horse’s head? Wow. How did he get all that blood to explode at the same time? Brilliant. He even shows you how the skin comes off when a bullet enters the body. Well, no, I wasn’t at a psychopaths’ convention, I was in a normal cinema with a lot of ordinary people who were all having a great time. The magic of Tarantino is that he can do that to us while also alerting us to the horrors of violence and the ease with which we can all enter a killer’s mindset particularly once we start wanting revenge. He also knows how to make films fun.
The action takes place in the American South two years before the beginning of The American Civil War and concerns itself with the condition of black slaves just before the war and the long process of history that led to black emancipation in that country. Here too shocking things are related through humour. Tarantino has received criticism for his seemingly casual use of that most offensive of race words, the N***** word. Of course, nothing is casual in his movies – everything is carefully balanced and nuanced. The jovial, almost everyday, ease with which the word is bandied around throughout the film has more impact than many a politically-correct scripting euphemism. Tarantino makes racism a legitimate target for humour and for outrage. He succeeds magnificently on both fronts. No one is going to want to join the Klu Klux Klan after watching this film which also records the shame that not just the USA should feel for humanity’s inhumanity in the slave trade.
The spirit of fun and horror is beautifully played by Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx as the pair of unlikeliest of bounty hunters. the humour is upfront and in the subtlest of nuances as is the anger and seriousness of intent. These men may be killers, outrageous ones at that, but they manage to carry us along letting us laugh at their jokes, identify with their story without ever thinking that their actions are actually justified. The bad guys get killed, and how, but this isn’t quite the real world, it’s the world of the Brothers Grimm, where rituals and fantasy, show us dark realities and make us want to find comfort, with the bedclothes pulled up over our heads, in evil being overcome by some special kind of magic. When those freed slaves go free, we really do hope that they will live happily ever after. Our joy and our sadness is all tied up in the fact that the World isn’t really like that at all. It is much worse. Quentin Tarantino is the good guy, don’t forget that.
There are terrific performances too even though the real star of the show is the director, Tarantino himself. He is most definitely not a star though when he appears in his, by now, accustomed cameo role, his worst yet . Please Quentin, you can’t act, man, get over it.
Christoph Waltz, as a German dentist turned bounty hunter, exudes energy and wit but also an undercurrent of seriousness that keeps us wondering what he’ll do next.
Jamie Foxx, as the freed slave Django manages to be dignified and cool without shirking dry and sometimes just plain silly self-mockery. He is also riveting in his power and emotion when the film takes one of its many nasty turns.
There is a wonderfully swaggering Leonardo DiCaprio, charismatic and extrovert, he too can make us laugh without us ever being taken in by his latent cruelty that, when his mood turns, is electrifying.
Samuel L. Jackson is simply magnificent as DiCaprio’s old black retainer, superficially unctuous and jokey but also frightening when he allows us to see his dark side, the film’s most sinister manifestation of distorted loyalty.
So try not to be squeamish and chicken out of seeing Django Unchained. It is both fun and serious, a terrific piece of film-making and no one really gets hurt. Don’t forget, it’s only exploding blood bags and prosthetic body parts and, as it says at the top of the end credits, no horses got hurt in the making of this film.