Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Review: Django Unchained

by Will Hine

Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx
(source: The Guardian)

As Quentin Tarantino burst into the box office in the early 1990s he redefined cinema for the next decade. Using a non-linear storyline with heavy dialogue, Tarantino has created a host of satirical and iconic stories and characters in film history. Over time, Tarantino's reputation has grown; this has allowed him to develop edgier and more adventurous films and Django Unchained is no exception.

German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees a slave called Django (Jamie Foxx) and offers to make him a free man if he helps identify three brothers so that he can collect the price on their head. After completing this mission and upon Dr. Schultz's discovery of Django's 'talent' for the line of work, they agree to work together over the winter, and in exchange the doctor will help Django reunite with his enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), rescuing her from cotton field owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

As in Tarantino's Inglorious Barsterds, the opening scene is utter brilliance. With a score created by 'the' western maestro Ennio Morricone, Tarantino's usual traits begin to take light. A group of slaves are being led through the desert by men on horseback; by night they reach a wood and from the darkness arrives a horse and carriage with a large tooth on the roof. The mix between hardship and the bizarre drives the narrative throughout the film.

Leonardo DiCaprio
Waltz is every bit as captivating as he was in Inglorious Basterds, but this time he conveys a strong moral fibre that one wouldn't usually associate with his line of work. Foxx is also in fine form, clearly having a blast playing the trigger-happy Django, while Leonardo DiCaprio  lives up to expectations as the eccentric, nefarious Francophile Calvin Candie. In one scene, DiCaprio cuts his hand accidentally but manages to stay in character and finish his scene. Though not scripted by Tarantino, the action works to great effect to accentuate Candie's instability and manic traits.

The interaction between Dr Schultz and Django is an easy chemistry; their conversations are memorable and are sure to go down as some of Tarantino's best work. The somewhat paternal actions of Dr Schultz in taking Django under his wing make both characters even more likeable. The pairing is comparable to that of Jules and Vincent (Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta) from Tarantino's 1994 classic Pulp Fiction. As in Pulp Fiction, the strained narrative contains a lot of rhetoric and takes politeness to a new extreme. If there is some degree of authenticity in Django Unchained, this would be in the courtesy of its characters. Moreover, in the dialogue, Tarantino, courting controversy as ever, mentions the 'n-word' in his script 111 times. An extravagant liberal, Tarantino is correct in that its usage was common in 1858 but his shattering of this social taboo is astounding and somewhat admirable in the deeper point that he is making about America's history of racism.

Tarantino's attention to violence is constant throughout his work; with Django Unchained being a western, it's hard not to notice. The special effects of the amount of gore literally paint one scene a new colour, due to the sheer number of henchmen being torn up by Django's gun in a confined space; the horror usually associated with such an act is completely turned on its head with a 'The Payback' (by James Brown) remix playing over the top. Ever the controversial director, Tarantino has been accused of confusing violence with normality. This is a harsh criticism, since Tarantino has always created unrealistic worlds in order to exaggerate his characters' motives. Consider the soundtrack: a western featuring James Brown, 2pac and John Legend whilst Django blasts a Colt. 45 isn't exactly an authentic portrayal of southern life in 1858. The film is not a big-issue movie but a homage to the spaghetti western.

Ultimately, Django Unchained is a film with an attractive story, excellent cast, superior soundtrack and a stellar script featuring some of Tarantino's smoothest quips and one-liners. Django Unchained is bloody, messy fun.

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