Tarantino’s Django Unchained is right on target

No one quite makes films like Quentin Tarantino.  With a taste for excessive, darkly comedic violence, a flair for sharp-tongued dialogue, and a love for retro stylings, there’s no mistaking the markings of the celebrated, controversial and foul-mouthed filmmaker.  Now, over three years since QT’s last and most successful film, Inglourious Basterds, comes the eagerly anticipated, Django Unchained.  Tarantino fans who have been left salivating in the run up to the film’s release will be thrilled to know that Django Unchained exceeds expectations.

With its events set throughout the Southern United States two-years prior to the Civil War, Django Unchained is very much a slave’s story that isn’t bothered with being about slavery itself.  Greatly indebted to 1966 Spaghetti Western Django, Tarantino introduces the audience to Jamie Foxx’s Django, who trudges along in shackles, whilst Luis Bacalov’s “Django” (his original theme from that very film) plays in full.  It’s the first of many eclectic, oft anachronistic, tracks that add a special touch that only Tarantino can integrate into a film this well.  When German dentist King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) makes his entrance, it’s only a matter of time before Django is, indeed, unchained. The unlikely pairing set out to hunt down wanted outlaws and re-unite Django with his enslaved wife.  As much a love story as it is a revenge tale, Django Unchained, though lengthy, is a fast-paced, enthralling drama full of over-the-top bloodiness, coarse language and rich characterisation.  Of course, as always with QT, it’s all delivered with a certain level of tongue-in-cheek humour (including an odd cameo appearance from the man himself) that ensures Django Unchained is utterly enjoyable from beginning to end.

Tarantino never fails to bring together stellar, star-ridden casts and Django Unchained is no exception.  With Academy Award winning Waltz again teaming with QT and fellow Oscar winner Jamie Foxx in the title role, the leading performances are fantastically captivating.  Exhibiting an effortless chemistry together, the duo is perfectly suited as partners seeking to extract their own measures of justice on the unsuspecting rogues.  As the antagonists, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L Jackson are scintillatingly smarmy.  DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, owner of the infamous Candieland plantation, is a guilty treat, especially once tensions flare and it becomes clear that his Francophile isn’t such a pushover after all.  Jackson, meanwhile, channels the nastiest of Uncle Tom characters possible, delivering continual f-bombs in the way only SLJ can.  At times, it feels like Jackson takes the character a step too far into caricature, but it remains an exceptionally wicked performance, nonetheless.

It is worth noting that the language in Django Unchained is as blue as any prior Tarantino film, if not more so, with the added caveat that it holds true to certain word-usage of the time.  It’s certainly uncomfortable to hear, but that doesn’t mean it should have been whitewashed.  More important is the fact that Tarantino’s dialogue is a blast.  Banter over the suitability of bags is classic, gut-busting Tarantino wit at its best.  It’s also one of the moments that create a moderately jarring break in the tone of the film.  If there’s one thing that Django Unchained lacks, it’s a more natural flow to the editing and overall structure.  Still, if there was no better way of weaving the bag scene into film, it proves, overwhelmingly, to be to the film’s benefit that it was left in.

Django Unchained is almost certainly the most Tarantino-esque of Tarantino’s resume.  A slick, meticulously framed homage to his wide variety of influences, Tarantino exploits his ability to incorporate scenes containing unnaturally vivid imagery without ever snapping the viewer out of the film’s spell.  While the climax settles into a tense confrontation, the eventual outcome delivers exactly what is expected of Tarantino, and gloriously so.

It might have a few rough edges, but Django Unchained is not only a great film, but a potent cultural work that exemplifies what one of America’s greatest filmmakers is all about.  An infectious must-see (and see again), Django Unchained is Tarantino’s most entertaining outing in years.  A spectacular cast and QT’s expertly crafted script help Django Unchained score an easy bull’s-eye.  9.5/10

Django Unchained is in UK cinemas 18 January 2013

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