The latest addition to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, ‘Django Unchained’, set in 1850s America, ticks all the boxes and features everything you would expect: strong bloody violence, punchy dialogue and Samuel L Jackson. Here, QT pays tribute to the ‘spaghetti western’ genre and tells the epic story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter, who come together on a journey to rescue Django’s wife from a brutal plantation owner.
A ‘road movie’, a ‘buddy movie’, ‘gangster film’: ‘Django…’ can almost fall into each of these categories but could only have been made by one writer/director. With trademark cinematography, a killer soundtrack and excellent plot tangents (one involving a hilarious scene poking fun at the Ku Klux Klan and getting away with it) this is unmistakably Tarantino. He even has his own minor but explosive cameo as a slave trader, putting his own dodgy slant on the Australian accent, however, he has overstepped the mark with the blood and gore a little, cheapening what is an extremely well made film. The bubbles and splats of guts and brains are out in full force as per and sadly try to overshadow the performances and script.
As the eponymous Django, I feared that Jamie Foxx would get lost alongside the blockbuster names and after my first viewing, I thought he had fell short of the podium with Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson taking gold, silver and bronze respectively. However, after watching again, the character seems to have grown on me and I found myself rooting for him more on my second viewing. Will Smith fortunately turned down the lead role and was later replaced by Foxx who plays the transition from downtrodden slave to cocky, and sometimes arrogant, bounty hunting hero very well. Waltz is effortlessly magnificent as the educated trilingual killer, whispering words of wisdom to Django throughout and for me, he steals the show and fully deserves his Oscar for ‘Best Supporting Actor’. His gain is Leo’s loss, as despite playing the schmaltzy but sadistic Calvin J Candie to perfection, he is second best on this occasion. I thought it would be difficult to take Di Caprio seriously in a villainous role as we are so used to seeing him as the hero but here he shows his versatility and is at times terrifying, particularly where the violence is there but hidden, rather than flaunted. He appears to be an ideal choice. Unusual casting decisions have paid off for QT in the past, such as reviving the career of John Travolta playing Vincent Vega and Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine in ‘Inglourious Basterds’, and this time it is no different. No hesitation is shown in taking an established Hollywood ‘heartthrob’ and giving them a character which nobody would expect them to portray. I should also mention Samuel L Jackson who plays a blinder as the house slave with misguided loyalties. Visually, he is almost unrecognisable but his voice instantly stands out and he enjoys his share of the witty one liners.
This will slot in nicely alongside Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs in an impressive portfolio, although whether it will live up to Tarantino’s high expectations of his own work as ‘the greatest Western of the 21st century’, only time will tell. He has shown again he can take the most serious of subjects and add his own personal touch, whilst keeping the harsh reality of the topic at hand. This film may be remembered for the silly shoot out physics instead of the bouncy conversations exchanged between Schultz and whoever he parleys with. Tarantino can nearly be seen as an overrated director but an underrated writer. A terrific piece of cinema nonetheless.