Thursday, 24 January 2013

Django Unchained (2012)

Tarantino's been banging on in the film press these past few months about how he thinks directors only get worse once they're "old". Well, consider yourself very much still middle aged Mr Quentin because Django Unchained is not to be missed.

His last film, Inglorious Basterds was often called a spaghetti western in every way but location and time. Having enjoyed that he's obviously taken that interest in spaghetti westerns a little further and given us Django, although of course it couldn't be that straightforward and we get was the director himself has dubbed a "southern". It's an important distinction though. With slavery at the heart of the film it had to be in the south and it had to be pre civil war, so it's markedly different from a lot of the classic westerns in that respect.

Don't get me wrong though, this is a film about slavery but it's not your standard middle-class white guilt fare like Dances with Wolves or something. This shit is Tarantino through and through, and that means it's about expressions of power rather than expressions of regret. Django is very much a revenge fantasy made manifest with everything that entails. Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who's been recruited and freed by a German bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who's offered his freedom in return for his help hunting down some particular targets. Upon hearing of Django's forced separation from his wife, Schultz offers his help in tracking her down and rescuing her. That means rescuing from her newest master, the notoriously sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

It's these three that make the film. Foxx is perfect as the freed slave going from a defeated man who'd had the only good thing in his life stripped from him to an unstoppable force of nature. The man exudes confidence and power; when Django kicks a door open, you know shit's about to go down. Similarly, Waltz delivers yet again for Tarantino. Following his ridiculously good performance as Col. Hans Landa in Inglorious, he's much the same in that Schultz is a smooth wordsmith and charismatic talker, only this time he's not a sadistic nazi but one of the good guys. This time you won't feel a little uncomfortable for really liking him. As for DiCaprio, this is just another nail in the coffin that was my stupid opinion of him. Thanks to films like The Beach and Romeo + Juliet I was sure he was a poor actor, then I saw Catch Me if You Can and figured he got lucky, then I saw Inception, then I saw The Departed and now I've seen Django Unchained and now I think he's one of the best on the scene these days. One particular scene in Django is one for the portfolio, where in an energetic rant the actor actually slashed his hand open by accident but just went with it because it fit the scene perfectly. the guy literally mutilated himself on the job and incorporated it into the scene. The man is fantastic.

That trio does make the film the great piece of work it is, but they don't do it alone. It's by far Tarantino's most mature film yet, but not at the expense of his personal style. Most Tarantino films to date have been flashy, visually and musically exciting films with a bit of a pulpy core in terms of emotion. The trademark flash and shock are still there. Hell, there's so much of the signature bright scarlet blood that one gun fight ends with the walls almost entirely painted with the entrails of the unlucky whiteboys who encountered Django. The humour that goes off on tangents hasn't gone anywhere either. Not to spoil it too much but there's a near enough ten minute sequence devoted to pointing out just how much the local KKK chapter might as well have walked off the Blazing Saddles set. But the devotion and determination of Django to get his wife back runs deeper than most emotional threads in Tarantino films. You could argue about Kill Bill's revenge idea, but you'd be wrong, that's just more of the pulpy flash again.

And that's not even mentioning the amount of hatred and disgust that should rightfully be generated in anyone's heart for Samuel L Jackson's Steven.

A great cast and exciting script lend itself perfectly to Taratino's vision of a western southern. Django is an epic journey through revenge, hate, violence and love with an exciting finale that'll rival any blockbuster on the silver screen these past few years.

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