Django Unchained is grimy, gorgeous and gory, a flawless spaghetti western in what is Tarantino's finest film since Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino returns to our screens this weekend with his first film since 2009's Inglorious Basterds, it's already up for numerous awards including 5 Oscars, it also won 2 Golden Globes recently in the form of a Best Supporting Actor win for Christoph Waltz and Best Original Screenplay for Tarantino. The film has been critically acclaimed, but it seems no Tarantino film comes without controversy and Django has been criticised for its use of graphic violence, especially in the days following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It has also been criticised for its use of racial language, not just by critics but also the acclaimed director Spike Lee.
Bringing us a dark southern feast of grit and blood, Tarantino's latest period epic is sensational. The film stars Jamie Foxx as the titular slave Django, Christoph Waltz plays the German bounty hunter and partner to Django, Dr King Schultz. Kerry Washington appears as Broomhilda, Django's wife, while also teaming up with Foxx for the first time since 2004's Ray. Leonardo DiCaprio portrays dictator like plantation owner Calvin Candie while Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson plays Candie's loyal butler, Stephen.
Set in the deep south, in the heart of Texas, the film begins with Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter, Dr King Schultz, in search of a particular slave he needs the help of, in order to chase down three wanted brothers. He finally comes across the man he needs, Django, who he hastily frees and explains his situation too. The two partner up to serve revenge, southern style, to the outlaws and gang members of Texas. Dr King soon discovers Django's back story, he has a wife, Broomhilda (Washington), who was taken from him, he intends to find and free her once he and King have finished their work together. King soon realises Django's bounty potential, and offers Django his help to free his wife.
After some investigation, both men set out to find notorious plantation owner and the man who purchased Broomhilda, Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). Django and King set up a front, and claim to be wanting to buy into Candie's Mandingo fighting business, a brutal and gladiator style fight to the death between savagely maltreated slaves. Yet all the while their aim is to merely free Broomhilda. Candie and our two heros get cosy and strike up a deal to purchase one of Candie's fighters, but also express an interest in purchasing Broomhilda, with Candie not yet having any suspicions that they know her. Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie's elderly and loyal butler, suspects something is up and alerts his master. Knowing he is being duped by the two bounty hunters, Candie demands $12,000 for Broomhilda or he will shoot her, King and Django of course give in and agree to pay the money. However, King, becomes distressed and angry after seeing Candie's treatment of his slaves, and eventually snaps, killing Candie, confessing 'I couldn't help myself' before being shot by Candie's bodyguard. What follows are two riotous shoot outs in which Django shows just how quick a gunman he really is, and eventually, he leaves with Broomhilda, after killing virtually every associate of Candie.
Tarantino's direction of Django Unchained is brilliantly bold, from stylistic elements to casting choices to cinematography, Tarantino somehow manages to make this violent opera beautiful. Just like Inglorious Basterds before it, he creates his own little piece of history, his own take on a dead genre and whips up a refreshing yet brutal beast of a film which delivers in every sense of the word. His script is also flawless, and that Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay is throughly deserved. In particular, a 5 minute scene with the KKK which also includes a cameo from Jonah Hill is so delightfully written, it already sticks out in my mind as one of the funniest scenes of any Tarantino film. This is another masterpiece and a continued return to form from the Pulp Fiction director after 2009's lack lustre Deathproof.
I can already guarantee that 2013's most badass performance will come from Jamie Foxx for this portrayal of Django. No one could be more perfectly cast for the character, and i'm astonished no one gave Foxx a Best Actor nomination at any of the awards this year. From the opening scene in which he so cooly throws his rag off in the dead of night to the film's finale where he looks on at the burning Candie mansion with his ice cool demeanour, Foxx's performance is nothing short of brilliance. He approaches each scene with such superb swagger and style, such arrogance and cool detachment its hard to not leave the cinema wishing you were Jamie Foxx.
Christoph Waltz takes the playful nature from his Inglorious Basterds performance but channels it into the much more good natured and well meaning Dr King Schultz. The German Schultz is very much an intriguing character, posing as a dentist, he travels round the beaten back tracks of the deep south tracking down and killing wanted outlaws as well as proclaiming his opposition and distate for slavery in the country. He is the true good guy of the movie, while Django can watch slaves be brutalised because he's already seen it, Schultz almost lets his guard down several times as he shows his obvious disgust at the treatment of Candie's slaves. He is very much an incredibly likeable character, and Waltz brings his own flamboyance and cheer to Schultz, his Oscar nomination is well deserved.
But the film's highlight performance is surely Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie. A frightful, wicked, power hungry boy-prince who's apparent evil knows no bounds, his portrayal his reason enough to pay full price to see this. Candie is so charming and aloof yet so brutal, so unnerving, and his ability to turn from delightful businessman to raging and vile racist in a second is incredible. Again DiCaprio should have at least been nominated for Best Supporting Actor this coming awards season, but the Academy's continued shunning of the actor has shamefully continued. The scene in which Candie slams his hand on the table and begins bleeding was never in fact planned, DiCaprio shed blood for this part and you can see in this scene in particular that DiCaprio is so engrossed in his performance.
Kerry Washington plays the role of Broomhilda with under stated fragility, you can see the torture in her eyes of what she's seen, yet you also see what Django sees, the breathtaking beauty and respectful, quiet nature of the character, it is all put across brilliantly by the 35 year old actress. In many ways Washington has one of the hardest parts to play, yet she plays it with under rated resilience. Samuel L. Jackson's character, the wretched house butler Stephen, is in many ways more detestable than Candie, as Django appears to recognise. Even Jackson deserves some kind of awards recognition for this performance, its despicable, loathsome and cowardly. Jackson's begrudging eyes say it all in a performance for a character who is just as intriguing as Schultz, as he appears to contribute to the disgusting racist attitude of the period just as much as Candie does.
Despite its gallant and fearless nature, what I love most about Django Unchained is that when you strip it down to its basic elements, it is essentially a love story, and thats where Tarantino's direction really shows its brilliance. If you remove the blood and the racism, it is a simple story of a dedicated husband just trying to be with his wife again, and that's where the film shows its beauty. In defence of the film's racist language, Tarantino has set out to create a genuine and authentic western, and in its historic context I see nothing offensive about the film's language.
Django Unchained is a beastly, riotous, sensational film, with not only fantastic performances all round by a perfect cast, it is also so well put together in terms of vision and style. 5/5
P.S. Django Unchained would have topped my Best of 2012 list if i'd seen it earlier.