I HAD low expectations of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
The film follows in the wake of his self-indulgent B-movie homage Death Proof and the entertaining but rambling Inglourious Basterds.
Two derivative films in the space of five years had fuelled speculation one of the 1990s’ most exciting directors was on the wane.
Thankfully Django is probably his best movie since the mid 1990s, and certainly one of his most mainstream.
Set in the Deep South just before the Civil War, bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and newly freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) set out to rescue Django’s wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of cruel plantation owner “Monsieur Candie” (Leonardo DiCaprio).
They devise an elaborate ruse where Schultz pretends to be interested in buying a slave prizefighter from Candie, with Django playing his pugilist advisor.
On reaching the Candieland plantation, the plan goes awry and the pair is forced into plan B, C and D, amid a flurry of gun fire, guts and good ole’ southern hospitality.
Waltz, who won an Oscar for his role as a sadistic SS officer in Inglourious Basterds, nearly steals the show again with his sang-froid, until DiCaprio swans on screen and gives him a run for his money as the charismatic Candie.
The acting is all top-notch and it’s good to see Jamie Foxx in a more subdued role for much of the film, rather than his usual vociferous persona.
Tarantino continually pokes fun at racism and slavery: sometimes with humour and levity, sometimes with displays of brutal violence.
But the ultimate effect on the audience is one of disbelief that such a practice ever existed.
The classic Tarantino dialogue-heavy scenes—which sparkled in early films like Reservoir Dogs but became turgid by 2007’s Grindhouse—have been jettisoned in favour of a tight script and good pacing.
A wise move which helps a film just shy of three hours zip by.
It has also appealed to mainstream audiences, making Django Tarantino’s most commercially successful film to date.
There are still plenty of quotable “Royale with cheese” lines to satisfy hardcore fans. And anyone who remembers Blazing Saddles will offer a wry smile at the comic Klansmen scene.
The director’s trademark gore also remains: gallons of human blood spurts, gushes and dribbles all over the screen and he makes his usual cameo appearance, inexplicably as an Australian slave trader alongside Jon Jarrett. The accent? Somewhere between Afrikaaner and New Zealand.
The scene in which Django has a wild shoot-out against Candie’s henchmen is classic Tarantino: trashy, ironic and overflowing with comic-book violence.
Django Unchained is proof that Tarantino makes the best $100 million drive-in movies ever seen.
by STEPHEN POLLOCK