Film review: Django Unchained

Django Unchained

(MA15+) ****

Director: Quentin Tarantino.

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson.

TARANTINO's done a war movie, a kung-fu fighter, a grindhouse flick, and a heist film, so why not a spaghetti western?

Or rather, a spaghetti southern, as this isn't about gunslingers in America's wild west, but bounty hunters in its deep south.

Set in the pre-Civil War era, where slavery is more acceptable than horse manure in the main street, we follow the enigmatic Dr King Schultz (Waltz) and his partner Django (Foxx), a slave purchased by Schultz in order to help Schultz collect the bounty on three killers.

As their partnership blossoms, Django and Schultz are soon on the hunt for Django's wife Broomhilda (Washington), who has been sold into the clutches of the despicably charming plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).

If you're slightly squeamish or easily offended, don't bother seeing Django Unchained. That should really go without saying for a Tarantino film, but some people forget or are unaware of his ear-chopping, brain-splattering, profanity-laden past.

Two things flow freely in this movie - the blood and the word 'nigger', so much so that their power and ability to shock almost becomes impotent as the film progresses.

The proliferation of the 'n' word and the fairly hefty doses of slavery have led some to brand the film as racist. Throughout much of the film, the treatment of African-Americans is disturbing, confronting, and horrifying, but not racist thanks to the context. It's stylised but it's got something to say - that slavery was one of the most vilest things one race has ever done to another. How can such a message be racist?

Tarantino is not exploiting his themes. The violence of the gun-fights, with their almost comical Python-esque spurts of blood, are too over-the-top to be taken seriously. The heinous treatment of some of the slaves throughout the course of the film is gut-wrenching and nightmare-inducing. Tarantino pulls no punches in getting that point across. He may have taken some liberties - the rumoured but never confirmed "mandingo fights" for example, or inventing the KKK before it was really invented - but his portrayal of the violence inflicted upon the slaves helps to imbue his characters with remarkable depths, particularly DiCaprio's slimy bigot Calvin Candie and Foxx's scarily focused Django.

Both are great in their roles, as is Waltz, who brings a flamboyant level of intelligence and class to a time and place that was dumb and disingenuine.

And let's not forget Jackson, who gives perhaps his best-ever performance as Stephen, Candie's faithful black servant.

Using the western, particularly its Italian-ised '60s cousin the spaghetti western, as a genre to examine slavery is a bold move - Tarantino uses whip-pans, lightning zooms, Morricone-style music and garish fonts, as is his typical melting pot approach to film-making. His soundtrack choices are typically bold (he throws in a 2Pac track), his shots are always aiming for "cool", and he throws in a wicked sense of humour.

But it works, in a way that only Tarantino can achieve. Yes, it's too long (165 minutes), and rides a fine line between cool and corny at times, but it's the funniest western since Blazing Saddles, the bloodiest since The Wild Bunch and the most visually stylish spaghetti western since The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, all while exploring some of the same themes as The Help.

Tarantino's done it again.

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