Film & TV

Review – Django Unchained

Set in the Antebellum Deep South, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, focuses on the eponymous character’s (Jamie Foxx) attempt to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) with the aid of a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) from an eccentric plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his surly servant (Samuel L. Jackson). What follows is perhaps the most measured Tarantino film yet.

As a self-proclaimed cinephile, Tarantino likes to explore cinema’s trademark genres and add his own twist (read: swearing and blood). His early work was initially exciting and innovative in a way that appealed to a cine-literate audience, but post-Jackie Brown, Tarantino’s films became even more style-over-substance than they were before, and it wasn’t really until Inglourious Basterds that he had anything new to offer. Blending the Western and Blaxploitation genres seems like it should have been a move Tarantino made years ago, especially considering that he has spent a large portion of his career aping Sergio Leone. To Tarantino’s credit, Django is a great Western epic; it’s two hours and forty-five minutes long, but justifies that length and has a pace that feels considerably brisk.

All the hallmarks of a Tarantino film are present in Django: gratuitous violence, exaggerated and tense dialogue and a superb soundtrack – composed from soundtracks from other Westerns, sounding like a greatest hits of Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov. However, we also have the new elements introduced in Inglourious Basterds: enhanced characterisation (as in any), varied dialogue and a visceral reality brought to slavery this time instead of the Holocaust.  This new and improved Tarantino is a filmmaker worthy of investing your time into the immense length of Django Unchained.

The performances are fantastic throughout, featuring arguably career highs for the majority of the cast. This certainly is true of Jamie Foxx, who stars as the titular character with a cool underplayed persona that complements the other performances incredibly well. However, much like Mark Wahlberg in The Fighter, it’s the other, perhaps more exaggerated, performances that stand out and dwarf his to an extent. Christoph Waltz ostensibly plays the same character he did in Inglourious Basterds (minus being a Nazi), but this still works because it harnesses that same quality of merging Tarantino’s quick-fire script with Waltz’s eloquent style.

As the primary antagonist, Leonardo DiCaprio takes on one of his most intriguing roles yet as deplorable racist francophile, Calvin J. Candie. The comedic theatricality of DiCaprio’s performance – with just the right amount of underlying menace – compliments the character perfectly and demonstrates his versatile ability as an actor. Finally we have Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, the ‘Uncle Tom’ head servant at Candie’s plantation. Much like DiCaprio, Jackson’s role is ludicrously fun and a breathe of fresh air after what feels like a while since we’ve seen him at his best.

The important thing to take notice of is what Django represents for Tarantino. As slick and exciting as his early filmography is, he did sink into something of a mire in the early 2000s. The referential style became overtly self-obsessed and, although at times entertaining, was a stagnation in his style. However, Tarantino has adapted and now focuses far more on the audience’s involvement with his works. Inglourious Basterds was the first glimpse into this development and now with Django Unchained, Tarantino has cemented his development as a mature filmmaker who understands his following and knows how to keep them entertained in new and exciting ways. Love him or hate him, he has achieved a breathtaking and undeniable accomplishment with this, his magnum opus, Django Unchained.

Ben James

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3 Comments on this post.
  • Innocent Bystander
    24 January 2013 at 18:59
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    Great review – I agree with the 5 stars. What is your opinion though, on Tarantino’s attitude to slavery (and equally anti-semitism in Inglorious Basterds) – he seems to treat it rather light-heartedly, stepping over the issues at hand in order to get to what he loves best, as you said, swearing and blood. Is this a bad thing, or should it just be treated as a ‘fun’ film, ignoring the gravitas that slavery demands?

  • Django Freeman
    25 January 2013 at 04:44
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    Come on IB, Tarantino films are about as serious as the Hallward 3rd Floor Poo Poo Share Board. I love Quentin but he’s never going to make a ‘serious’ movie, he’s all about the fun. Funnnnnnnnnnnnnnnununnnnnnnnn.

  • BenJames
    26 January 2013 at 14:14
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    @Innocent Bystander I think what Tarantino does with Slavery and Antisemitism is intriguing and the perfect move for him as a director.

    Films like Schindler’s List work well at representing the gravitas of the Holocaust, but only a certain breed of filmmaker is capable of that. Tarantino isn’t. Instead what he does is takes his own approach to film making and applies it to these subjects & instead of giving them a weighty horror, he makes them uncomfortably violent. Arguably what he depicts in Django & Inglorious could have happened & they’re all the stronger for this because they can go the extra step that more poignant films can’t.

    I would goes as far as to say that Spielberg’s attempt to address the issue of slavery trivialises the subject & makes it feel like reading a dispassionate history book on the subject. Admittedly with Schindler’s List his work is more powerful, but I think Inglorious does just as much for demonising the Nazis as Spielberg does. I think by addressing the separation between these two approaches, Tarantino proves himself as rather shrewd when making films about contentious subject matter.

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