An unlikely friendship is kindled when bounty hunter Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees the enslaved Django (Jamie Foxx) on the assumption that he will help him find three outlaws. The pair continues Schultz’s bloody occupation on the premise that they will find and free Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) when the winter passes. Such an agreement leads them into dealing with the deliciously repellent plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Quentin Tarantino isn’t one to shy away from uncomfortable topics. Splattering cinema screens with bloody mayhem since 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino’s work has taken on a mystic form; when it’s announced that he is working on new material, cinephiles lap up the news greedily. And rightly so. Here he infuses the western genre with his unmistakable style and creates the brilliantly crafted Django Unchained, with the adept help of his three leads.
The film is as much Tarantino’s as it is Django’s; Django provides the story with its principal character, whilst Tarantino provides the film with its style. Though it can be argued that this is the case with all directors, never is the presence of one felt so greatly as it is with a Tarantino film – and that’s no criticism. There’s something about a Tarantino film that feels accomplished and rounded. All elements slot together so neatly that you sometimes wonder what other directors are doing wrong.
What of the protagonist that Tarantino has chosen to lead his tale? Django provides a fine character for the audience to experience 1858 southern America with. He is a man who knows what he wants and is willing to go to any lengths to achieve it. His partner Schultz’s quick-witted but laid back nature comes across as endearing rather than arrogant whilst his patient coaching of Django and his acceptance of his mistakes (namely his poor dress sense) reinforces their natural bond. The pair’s comfortable relationship helps to highlight the ignorant bigotry of the contemporary Americans – not that the film sets out to make a point. Racism is rife here, as it was in 1858. The film issues out the ‘N’ word brazenly, not to advocate its use, rather as a way of providing the backdrop against which Django must fight to complete his quest.
Characteristic of Tarantino, black comedy weaves its way through the script and a scene involving the KKK provides more laughs than the topic probably should. Samuel L. Jackson‘s Stevie is a treat, namely due to his grumpy reaction to anything that unsettles his routine. Needless to say, violence is present too and much of it makes for uneasy viewing – expect to see a man mauled by dogs alongside progressive shoot outs. Male members of the audience may also find themselves sitting cross-legged more than once… we’ll say no more.
Leonardo DiCaprio arguably steals the show with his representation of the petulant Candie, a man as in love with the idea of his own importance as he is with France. His underlying hypocrisy manifests itself in his francophilia and the fact that he can’t speak French. Though perhaps not as overtly evil as other villainous characters, Candie’s smooth-talking is venomous and his fascination with Mandingo fighting (which allows for one of the most unsettling scenes featured in the movie) serves as an indication as to just how far removed from humanity he has become.
Some will baulk at the runtime of the film, a hefty 165 minutes, but Django Unchained is, quite simply, a lot of fun. Successfully blending ferocious visuals with a characteristically stylish soundtrack, Django Unchained is a must-watch.