Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Django Unchained

2012, 18, Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson

Say what you want about Quentin Tarantino, there’s no doubt as to the loyalty of the guy’s feverish fan-base; with five gleaming entries into his ‘body of work,’ accompanied by a few - shall we say... misjudged steps (Death Proof is not a bad film – just a letdown by QT’s standards) – Tarantino’s latest and always anticipated slice of filmmaking is as revisionist,  homage-laden and violently-stylised as we’ve come to expect. This time, instead of rewriting the history of WWII (as seen in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds,) his attention has now turned to – or returned to, for this is something forever been in the pipeline - the subject of slavery in Django Unchained.
 As the film commences, our titular hero Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who, in a perfectly-pitched opening scene, is set free by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) – and his horse, Fritz. Initially requiring Django’s services to identify a trio of brothers with price tags dangling over their racist heads, he learns the softly-spoken former-slave was separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington,) who is now owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio,) the charmingly malicious owner of plantation Candyland - the two forming an unlikely companionship as they trek across America to free Broomhilda. For all of Django’s gun-slinging, Foxx plays him as effectively as Tarantino’s script allows him, perhaps in many scenes relying on the character’s presence to do the talking. That he isn’t as memorable as the supporting players is more credit to Tarantino’s character-conception than a disservice to Foxx. In all honesty, Schultz and Candie could be two of the finest characters he has created, with the latter providing Leo DiCaprio with the performance of his career thus far. For all of Christoph Waltz’s terrifying tenacity as Hans Landa in Basterds, he plays what we could previously assume is against type here, with Schultz one of the most compassionate creations in the QT film canon. With claims to being a former dentist, the calmest bounty hunter that side of the border travels across the states by a horse-led carriage fit with a tooth attached to a spring bouncing off the top. Razor-sharp wit of the visual form.   
A sustained dramatically-ironic dinner table scene as Django and Schultz eat side-by-side along with Candie, observed by Samuel L. Jackson's disturbing watchful head slave Stephen, is reminiscent of many scenes from his filmography, matching the ranks of tension, as mindless conversation abounds and the character interaction flits from one to another as the minutes tick away; essential Tarantino. Mention must go to L. Jackson, an actor seemingly unrecognised by his peers; his Stephen - a loyal house slave rarely leaving his master's side, with every glance lined with adoration - is downright disturbing. As the scene plays out, his wide-eyed hawk-like eyeballs flit about, scrutinizing even the littlest detail - not any actor could cause such unease in the mere movement of eyes.
So far, so Quentin. Unlike most of his films before, however this is strictly linear – no slicing up of the structure in what is now deemed to be his convention. Django Unchained is all the better for it. Playing it straight was an unprecedented move which he makes up for in space of extreme hyper-realised violence, an on-the-nail soundtrack and scenes shaped as witty asides, not forgetting the beautifully-realised backdrops. You can just tell how much the director is revelling in his version of a Western (deemed by the man himself as, in fact, a 'Southern',) pastiching all of his favourites - 1966's Django being the most obvious influence, highlighted by the cameo of original Django actor Franco Nero.

Much has been spoken about the film's running time (165 minutes,) and granted, the film is slightly stunted by a bizarre cameo from Tarantino himself. However, it is hard to deny the care and love merged with every stylistically-charged shot presented to the audience. Tarantino remains a filmmaker to take notice of.
'The D is silent,' drawls Foxx's Django. My praise for this film could never be.