Saturday, 19 January 2013

#14: Django Unchained - The "D" is silent

Django Unchained is a film that's been on the tips of everyone's tongues since it was announced, with many hoping it would be Taratino's return to the dizzying heights last seen in Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). Thankfully after Nazi-bashing fairytale Inglorious Bastards (2009) it is a complete return-to-form for Hollywood's most popular foot-fetishist.

Half Spaghetti-Western and half 1970s Blaxploitation homage, Django Unchained owes as much of it's narrative to Franco Corbucci's Django (1966) as it does to earlier Tarantino outings such as Jackie Brown (1997) and Pulp Fiction (1994). The film's premise is a simple one; revenge. Eponymous protagonist Django, portrayed by a fantastic Jamie Foxx, starts the film off like the vast majority of the black characters featured, as a slave. However in a brilliant opening scene,Django is freed by the retired dentist-come-bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) and they embark on their oft-violent and ever-courteous journey across the South.

It soon becomes apparent that Django is married, but he and his wife had become separated after trying to escape a former plantation they both worked on. Not giving too much away, Django and Dr Schultz strike a deal, in exchange for helping him bring in bounties over Winter, Dr Schultz will help Django find his wife Broomhilda, a miss-appropriation of the German name "Brünnhilde", which she was given by her German mistress as a child.

There are several impressive sequences early on, one involving a town sheriff is particularly memorable and the first instance in the film when you see the bewilderment that arises from Django riding a horse, a recurrent theme throughout; and an excellent scene in which the relationship between Schultz and Django is fully-realised as they scope out a target on a farm. The patience and the encouragement Schultz gives to Django as he struggles to read a handbill is brilliantly understated and fantastically played out and the first scene in which you can really see the chemistry between Foxx and Waltz.

Eventually Schultz manages to track down Broomhilda to a plantation known as Candyland, a place notorious amongst slaves for being a brutal and cruel place to work. And under the guise of wanting to purchase a mandingo (slaves who fight to the death) Schultz and Django take a trip to Candyland, a plantation owned by Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and this where the picture really comes in to his own. DiCaprio is an acting powerhouse. His portrayal of the dandy yet sadistic Candy is one of his best performances, period, and shows how much he has matured as an actor since his early roles in Romeo and Juliet (1996) or Titanic (1997). A violent and rich man, Candy's favourite past-time is the aforementioned mandingo fighting (it be worth noting here that there are in fact no historical accounts of fights such as these taking place, however Taratino has never been one to stop historical accuracy getting in the way of a good yarn) and his interest in Schultz is suddenly piqued when he offers him an excessive sum of money for one his top mandigos. Django is forced to take on the role of a black slaver and “mandingo expert” (something that Candy and his gang of slack-jawed tobacco-chewers find amusing) and head up to the bighouse with Candy and Schultz to view the slaves and have dinner.

In perhaps the strongest performance of the entire cast, Tarantino-veteran Samuel L. Jackson plays the wildly eccentric Stephen, an uncle tom type butler who has served the Candy family for his entire life. Jackson is incredible and his subservience borders on the malevolent at times. His propensity to use the word “nigger” in it's most derogatory of meanings, seemingly unaware that he himself is included, is perhaps his most chilling asset. Tensions begin to rise until Candy's facade of southern hospitality breaks and all hell breaks lose in the final hour or so.

The soundtrack to Django Unchained is possibly Tarantino's best since Pulp Fiction . The traditional Spaghetti-Western guitars are there for the most part, however there are occasions where Tarantino has included an anachronistic Hip-Hop track which, bizarrely, work brilliantly with the scenes they're paired with.

Robert Richardson has been nominated for an Oscar for his cinematography. And deservedly so. The South looks incredible throughout and pays deep homage to Sergio Leone's South in The Dollars trilogy.

The bar was set quite high for Django... past outing from Tarantino have been disputed amongst fans and critics alike. Luckily for him this is quite possibly one of his most successful films to date. Sure it's rife with historical inaccuracies (most notably the film is set in “1858, two years before the American Civil War” which in fact started in 1861) and even Tarantino has out done himself with number of racial slurs in the script; but do little things like that matter when the film you're watch is as good as this? This is what cinema should be out. A fantastic plot; snappy dialogue; action when the narrative calls for it and lulls when it doesn't. This is without a doubt one of the best films you will see this month, if not the year.

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