Django Unchained

Bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx), who has information on the Brittle Brothers, Schultz’s next targets. After Django helps him find them, Schultz agrees to train Django to work alongside him as a partner, with the intention of saving Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). But to save Broomhilda, the pair will also have to get past Candie’s ruthless housemaster Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).

Firstly, Tarantino! Yay! I absolutely love Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds, I like Death Proof and although I cannot remember very much of the Kill Bills or Jackie Brown, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed them, so I’ve been looking forward to this film for quite some time. The fact that it was a western (although it’s been billed as more of a southern) is only a benefit, as I’m partial to a few of those, and I was intrigued to see how Tarantino would approach this genre, in a similar fashion to how I wondered how he’d tackle the World War 2 sub-genre in Inglourious.

It should also be known that I’m not a massive fan of Jamie Foxx. I don’t necessarily dislike him, I’ve just not been overly impressed with the work of his that I’ve seen (Collateral, Due Date, The Soloist, Law Abiding Citizen, The Kingdom, Dreamgirls) and I was somewhat disappointed when the rumours of Idris Elba’s casting as Django were dismissed, though I was relieved at similar news regarding Will Smith. I was incredibly wary that Foxx would be a major let down in this, especially when he was appearing alongside the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, all of whom are better known for their acting abilities. My apprehension had been intensified when I’d heard elsewhere that Foxx was the weak link in the cast (other than a significantly weaker link I’ll get to later), but I can verify that not only was Foxx more than capable as the titular slave-turned-killer, he was downright badass, and gave one of my favourite performances of recent times. Some of his ‘cooler’ lines faltered a little with me after repeat viewings from the trailers, but the rest of the cinema seemed to thoroughly enjoy them, which always confuses me that so many people could have seen this film without having paid very much attention to the previews. Regardless of the falterings, there was still plenty of awesomeness on display, especially between Django and Walton Goggins’ Billy Crash, one of Candie’s weasel-like employees. Django also has some amazing sunglasses that I’m fully aware I wouldn’t be able to pull off, and he looks incredible when walking away from an explosion, or emerging from a cloud of dust. He could quite easily give Clint Eastwood’s man with no name a run for his money. 

It isn’t just Foxx that does a terrific job here, pretty much everyone is excellent. Christoph Waltz reteams with Tarantino after his Oscar-winning role in Inglourious Basterds, and I’m pretty sure his character here was designed with Waltz in mind. Schultz is nowhere near as impressive as Colonel Hans Landa, but this is because the villain is generally the most interesting character on screen. This is very much the case here too, as DiCaprio’s Candie is at times charming, but more often terrifyingly monstrous and quick to anger. Samuel L. Jackson, however, is a revelation as a character completely unexpected from what I was expecting. Stephen is essentially a slave, but one who has worked for the Candies for three generations, and lives to serve his master, but retains a jovial and occasionally less than courteous tongue in his head when around his employer. My one problem with him though was that his character is really very despicable, but the fact that Jackson is playing him makes him a comical creation, which makes him all the more fearsome as the film progresses. Had he been played by a more serious actor – Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington, say, then I highly doubt he would have raised quite so many laughs from the audience at his heightened reactions to situations that, although benefiting from a moment of frivolity, should have been slightly more intense. But that weak link I mentioned before? Even if you haven’t seen the film,it probably won;t come as much of a surprise to discover that it’s the director himself. Mr. Tarantino, who once again was unable to fight the urge to appear in his own film, and he exacerbates this situation by attempting an Australian accent he has absolutely no right in being near. But enough about that, how else was this film amazing?

Well, the cinematography is pretty cool, especially when glorifying Tarantino’s trademark brutal violence. One shot that I particularly admired followed the legs of a running horse as it’s rider was rather bloodily shot, falling off the far side of the horse before the camera pans up to reveal a rather messy splatter against the formerly pristine white neck of the horse. The crash zooms were a little over used, but remained effective throughout, and the use of saturating or over-exposing flashback sequences was particularly successful at implying the seriousness of what was being shown, often involving whippings and general cruelty being dealt from one person to another. So yes, if you were wondering if this is a gory film, that should answer your question. There are many deaths throughout, and each one seems to contain more blood than the last, which I don’t necessarily mind, but it was a little hard to stomach for my girlfriend. She managed to stick it out, even though she isn’t a fan of violent or sweary movies, and ended up really enjoying the film, so it is possible to get past the gore if you have issues with that sort of thing. Something I could have done without though is the scene where a man gets ripped apart by dogs, in a death reminiscent of the zombies shredding Rhodes in Day of the Dead. What made this worse, however, was the need to unexpectedly flash back to the dog-ripping later on in the film, just in case you hadn’t seen it closely enough the first time around, and the mandingo scrap is also pretty damn visceral. And there’s more wince-inducing leg-crossings required for all male viewers than Casino Royale and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang combined.

So is there anything wrong with the film? Well, script-wise there were a couple of set-ups that weren’t paid off as well as I would have liked, the ‘N’ word is used distractingly excessively, and at 165 minutes it was a little too long, even though it felt shorter than Les Miserables, which is actually seven minutes shorter. But that’s it. everything else is pretty much perfect. I didn’t even mind Jonah Hill’s cameo, as it was almost lost amidst a sea of other stellar character actors, many of whom I wasn’t aware of until after seeing the film. And I won’t lie, when I saw Don Johnson appear in the opening credits I was a little excited to see him on screen, but only because I thought he was actually Don Warrington, a great actor from the likes of Hamlet and Rising Damp, but was in fact some guy from Miami Vice. Ah well, you can’t have everything.

If you like any of Tarantino’s films, especially Inglourious Basterds, then chances are you’ll love this one too. It’s got great comedy (the KKK bag debate), a terrific script (“I don’t know what positive mean”), the most moustache twirling ever seen on film since Tombstone, some elaborately drawn out deaths, incredible acting, a wonderful story of the three classic motives – money, love and revenge – a kick-ass soundtrack I’ll be purchasing any day now, and the most violent way to redecorate an entry hall ever recorded. 

Choose film 9/10

4 thoughts on “Django Unchained

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