The D is silent – ★★★★★
One of the most hotly anticipated films of both this and last year bursts onto our screens in a hail of bullets and blood. Not for some time has a film gained so much controversy or sparked a debate from all sections of society as Django Unchained.
Set two years before the American Civil War, Tarantino spins his yarn around Django (Jamie Foxx), a black slave given his freedom by the bounty hunter Dr. Schultz (Christopher Waltz) as long as he helps him identify the Brittle brothers. On the road together Schultz learns of Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and vows that if Django spends the winter bounty hunting he will help him track down his wife. Along their travels they end up on the plantation of Big Daddy (Don Johnson), have a run in with a version of the Ku Klux Klan and finally arrive in Candieland – the home of slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Tarantino pays homage to the western in particular Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns of the 60s. As with all his films though this isn’t any ordinary western. It makes Peckinapah’s The Wild Bunch seem tame when it comes to violence. It has both comical violence; when people explode into pools of blood or are blown ten feet across a room and serious realistic violence when slaves are whipped or ripped apart by dogs. What sets it apart from all popular westerns however is that it has a black man as the hero. When talking to Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy Tarantino said how he wanted to give black American males a western hero, a mythical figure to be empowering.
| o | – Bounty Hunters Inc.
The casting is flawless, Waltz initially just seems to be the same character from Inglorious Basterds but he soon puts these concerns to rest as we realise he is the emotional heart of the film. He is unable to come to terms with the horrors of slavery and how black people are so easily disposed. Jamie Foxx oozes hatred towards his white slave masters and relishes the chance he has been given to extract revenge. DiCaprio is fantastic as the quintessential definition of a southern slave owner and once again shows why he is one of the greats and not merely a pretty face. Kerry Washington is superb at giving weight to the love story element between herself and Django. Supporting turns from Don Johnson and a cameo by Jonah Hill are enjoyable and lead to one of the funniest scenes in the film when a gang of klansmen are arguing over the eye holes in their pillowcases.
The best performance must go to Samuel L. Jackson portraying an Uncle Tom figure by the name of Stephen. He is almost unrecognisable as the feeble servant of Calvin Candie, yet in most ways yields the power of the house. He orders the other slaves around making them fear for their lives, adores Calvin and is able to command his ear when necessary. He certainly is without question the villain of the piece.
Tarantino picked up the Golden Globe last week for best screenplay and is also nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar at the end of February. His dialogue sets the screen alight giving believability to all his characters. Much has been made of his use of the word “nigger”, with the final count being somewhere around the 100 mark. The film is set in the 1840s in the southern states of America so for him to brush over the word would be to perpetrate a lie. His film has tried to shine a light on America’s shameful past and as a result has created not only an entertaining picture but a thought provoking one as well. One of the sharpest pieces of dialogue is a blistering commentary on America:
Calvin Candie: Your boss looks a little green around the gills.
Django: He just ain’t used to seein’ a man ripped apart by dogs is all.
Calvin Candie: But you are used to it?
Django: I’m just a little more used to Americans than he is.
Tarantino has succeeded in creating a fantastic western that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the other giants of the genre. With a great soundtrack, razor-sharp dialogue and larger than life characters Django Unchained has all the hallmarks of a Tarantino classic.
USA / Directed By: Quentin Tarantino / Written By: Quentin Tarantino / Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson / 157min / Action, Drama, Western / Release: 25 December 2012 (USA, Canada), 18 January 2013 (Ireland, UK)