Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2012) – Freed slave Django joins Dr. King Schultz in the bounty hunting business, as he plans to rescue his missing wife from the ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie.
As everyone probably already knows – I like the way you make movies, Quentin.
Three years after drenching Nazi-occupied France in bloodbath, Quentin Tarantino forges ahead with his new chapter of rewritten history in his vengeance trilogy. Following a three-month stall, Django Unchained was finally well, unchained. Not one bit of my excitement was doused in the wait.
This time, Quentin sets his epic in the vast South, where the sullen sounds of Cash’s Ain’t No Grave meet the clangs of iron shackles. The slaves shamble through the darkness, and dentist-turned-bounty-hunter King Schultz enters in a carriage with a pendant tooth.
As Schultz begins negotiating to acquire his protégé, we are immediately reassured that Tarantino is back in full form. There is that brilliant sense of dark humour, his unforgettable characters and their verbose albeit engaging dialogue. Despite familiarity, everything remains just as unpredictable, allowing the entire lead-up to his signature stand-off to teem with tension throughout.
At the top of his game, Christoph Waltz adeptly brings Schultz to life. Last seen as the hateful Nazi colonel in Inglourious Basterds, Waltz reels in his impish disposition in his new role and subtly shows history he has weathered than is seen. Deservingly, he bagged his second Academy Award earlier this year with the most wonderful acceptance speech of the night.
His protégé Django may be one for loud costumes, but unlike the usual Tarantinoverse leading hero(ine), Django is not one to act in loud vengeance. Rather he watches and learns with keen eyes, waiting to be ready. Jamie Foxx presents nuances in the reticent personality of a keen observer and easily shines on his own. His perfect placid interpretation shrouds him in a veil of the same unpredictability the antagonist sees him in.
Effectively establishing himself as a quiet leading hero, he comes armed with few but memorable lines. The story takes an exciting turn as he saddles up to track down his imprisoned wife Broomhilda with Schultz’s help, but must mask his real intentions before the abhorred big bad.
The ever well-liked Leonardo Dicaprio takes on one of his best roles yet. Almost unrecognisable, he immerses in the challenging delivery of savage evil, showing how man can be more of a monster than any creature. His plantation owner Calvin Candie captures both curiosity and attention with his relentlessly vicious way with his slaves.
One cannot help but to etch in mind how Dicaprio reportedly ignored his lacerated hand, using his pouring blood as a prop. The man does it with a slew of convincingly mad anger, much to the horror of Broomhilda, or rather Kerry Washington herself.
His ugliness is only outdone by a hunched over and utterly detestable Stephen, played by the always outstanding regular Samuel L. Jackson. In an intense spine-tingling encounter, his dreadful menace intimidates Broomhilda into an overwhelming fear that could very well have been real. Having said that, Kerry Washington is splendid in her deliberate moments. Her anguish upon both physical and mental torment pierces through the silver screen.
The trademark Tarantino stand-off never gets old. This time, it serves to put our quiet hero back into the light as the titular character. Dark red hue washes the house in an instant and the serious carnage feels more real than ever before. Its sheer scale, though horrific, is pretty darn satisfying to watch.
While I still believe the Screenplay award should have gone to Inglourious Basterds that one bitter year, Django Unchained very well deserves its accolade for Tarantino’s ingenuity in weaving fiction into controversial history. All while making several references to the original Django – the plot, theme song, Franco Nero’s cameo – and his favourite westerns, his distinctive virtuoso style remains. One can let their guard down and laugh at the dark humour, while not be completely untouched by the reality of that brutal time.
The soundtrack captivates, introducing some original earworms – John Legend’s Who Did That To You and Brother Dege’s Too Old To Die Young – and classic tracks in a well put-together selection. That is even if the music never finds its fit quite as well as Never Can Tell or Cat People did. Editor Sally Menke’s absence simply cannot be dismissed, either.
Nevertheless these minor flaws do little to detract from the solid storytelling in this bloody masterful revenge epic. Who else is psyched for the next chapter in Tarantino’s history class?