Cinema is rarely this much fun. Films can be funny, shocking, tragic and exciting at times, but rarely are they honestly described as simple and undeniable fun. Quentin Tarantino returns to the director’s seat, in a much hyped and anticipated homage to spaghetti Westerns: Django Unchained. Set in 1858, Django Unchained tells the story of Django, a slave played by Jamie Foxx, who is freed by the German dentist-turned Bounty Hunter Dr. King Schultz, brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz, and enters into an agreement, that after paid work Django can go and free his wife from the employment of the wonderfully despicable Calvin Candie- perhaps the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career. While this would be a good basis for any movie, under the direction of Tarantino it had the potential to be a quite magnificent piece of work. Thanks to his genius, and his dream cast including Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L Jackson, it may not only be the early film of the year, but it may well be the best film Tarantino has ever made.
Django Unchained is a masterpiece. From the start of the movie to the final brilliant scene, the film oozes style and has you on the edge of your seat. It’s wonderful cinema, and completely classic Tarantino. Some claimed that Tarantino has never rekindled the form that inspired him to make the epic crime masterpieces Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction; this is Tarantino back to his very best. It’s got all of his trademarks: sickeningly black humour, over-the-top gore, exceptional dialogue and career-best performances from all actors involved. It brought memories flooding back of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, but while those were very dark and reasonably serious films, sprinkled with black humour, this is Tarantino’s silliest and most brilliantly enjoyable film ever. That’s not to say that Django Unchained is a comedy; some moments are violent, shocking and disturbing. I laughed more then I expected, but one scene involving emotional torture by Leonardo DiCaprio was brutal and dark, and the audience is arguably not ready for it. I see this as a good thing; Tarantino has an exceptional talent of comforting the viewer with violence, but still finding ways to shock you with it (there is an equivalent of the ‘Marvin head’ scene from Pulp Fiction here). There is a lot of violence, most of it deliberately over the top by Tarantino; the film is well deserving of its 18 rating, but not so much as to draw comparisons to Kill Bill: however much I loved Tarantino’s homage to Samurai films, I think Django Unchained is a lot smarter then that.
Tarantino is the definition of a fearless director; I am confident most directors would not have had the courage to go towards this era in time, let alone make such a unsubtle and brash film about it. Tarantino does not shy away from this seemingly forbidden period of history, which seems a far too sensitive and admittedly shameful time to explore. Django Unchained depicts brutal moments of violence towards black people, and does not hold back on the things that happened to slaves: and quite rightly so! If you must explore this era, Tarantino appreciates that you have to show what really happened, and not soften it for the public. If anything, it may not be violent enough; the truly horrific deeds of slavers in this era were probably worse then Tarantino makes out. Not only does he explore this area with fearlessness and style, he also is brave enough to tackle the subject head on, unlike other films which take the alternative route of tackling slavery through the abolition of the practise. I was also impressed with Tarantino’s use of setting, as for many of his films he relies heavily on atmospheric indoor spaces (the vast majority of Reservoir Dogs takes place in a warehouse). In Django Unchained, Tarantino explores the natural world, using stunning scenery throughout the seasons whether its blood landing on cotton flowers or Django practising his shooting on a snowman. Django Unchained can be seen as Tarantino’s riskiest film to date, and it benefits from it.
As earlier stated, it wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie if the cast didn’t give the performances of their careers. Jamie Foxx is brilliantly deep and brutal as ex-slave Django, and plays fantastically off Christoph Waltz, who gives a performance of a lifetime as a loveable German bounty hunter, who seems to be the only fair man in this barren and racist world, yet still kills people for a living. He talks his way out of trouble, treats Django like a human being, and constantly kills naturally and with good humour. No one in this film is perfect but Waltz nearly convinces us that his character is; he is absurdly likeable despite his flaws. If that isn’t enough to make this movie superb, the main villains, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L Jackson raise the film to astronomical levels of greatness. DiCaprio gives the finest performance of his career as the charming Candie, who does horrific things in a excited and almost joyous mood, and for one brutal moment, steals the show. The fact people still refer to him as ‘the guy from Titanic’ baffles me, I’m a great fan of his work in Inception and The Departed, but for me this performance is a sign of how good an actor he really is. Never before has he been asked to play such a disgusting and vile character, and he delivers to perfection, giving a clever smile here and a sly line there, never shying away from his character’s horrific and vile nature. He also plays off Samuel L Jackson naturally, who is perhaps the show stealer as the black servant Stephen, a masterful and mature performance. Samuel L Jackson has always shone in Tarantino movies, Pulp Fiction probably being his most famous role, but he was also haunting and scary in the much under appreciated classic Jackie Brown. In Django Unchained he is superb, giving the film a level of maturity and creepiness that perhaps it would have lacked without him. His character is DiCaprio’s slave, but more of a butler and personal advisor, hardly acting like a slave and also treating other slaves abysmally. He skulks around the room, spying, intruding and deceiving, and even in his friendlier moments the viewer is never led to believe he is anything less then a villain. Every line is perfectly done by Samuel L Jackson, and even the much talked about use of the ‘N word’ is aggressively forced out, giving the character real menace and tasteless nature. Would any other director and actor get away with this character? Depicting the slave trade realistically is one thing, having this horrific Uncle Tom style character is another. I think it’s fearless and admirable to put such a performance in, and the film gains a much more profound and mature feeling from it. In short, not since Pulp Fiction has a Tarantino ensemble cast been this perfect, all linking up brilliantly and every actor outshining the other.
I can’t think of a bad moment of this film. It’s close to flawless, the direction, the ensemble cast, the settings, even the soundtrack, all are masterful. It should be looked upon as a classic for years to come, and if this isn’t Tarantino back to his best then I don’t know what is. Arguments arise about the use of the ‘N word’ in this film, some arguing it is overused and unnecessary. I disagree; the film is historically accurate in the use of this word, and is not used lightly by any means. Some argue about the historical accuracy: slaves being forced to fight to the death is not historically proven, and also the inclusion of the Ku Klux Klan is apparently about three years too early. These arguments may or may not be true, but the fact they are entirely invalid remains. People who research into the historical accuracy of this film are taking it far too seriously, and if you have seen it, you know it is not meant to be taken entirely seriously anyway. It defies criticism and demands praise: there is one scene in the movie where DiCaprio’s character roars in triumph and raises his arms in joy after seeing something he deems to be fantastic; my reaction when the final credits rolled was similar. Django Unchained was everything I had hoped for and more, brave, bold, barmy and brash. A triumph.
This film has far too many moments to nominate a best, but my personal favourite was Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech at the dinner table. He slams the table and comes away with a hand of blood, but not caring, smearing Django’s wife with it as he makes his brutal speech. The blood was actually unscripted: DiCaprio cut his hand on the glass but stayed in character and Tarantino loved it. It’s moments and stories like this that raise Django Unchained into something very special.
Complaints the film is overlong are valid, coming out of the cinema having spent about three hours in your seat can lead to questions about length. When asked to choose which scenes to cut however, you will inevitably struggle; every moment is a joy to behold.
Django Unchained is a Tarantino masterpiece for the modern era. It is brutal, shocking, darkly humorous and wonderfully acted, and is probably going to be my film of the year. Being such a big fan of Tarantino, I had huge hopes for Django, and I was not even slightly disappointed. It was everything I hoped it would be, and is everything a perfect Tarantino film should be. Quite simply one of the best films I have ever seen, and could be the finest Quentin Tarantino movie ever. I feel like even my top rating isn’t enough for it; Django Unchained is cinema perfection.