DjangoUnchainedOfficialPosterPTIt’s arguable that Quentin Tarantino is the only true auteur working in mainstream cinema. It’s a proposition that certainly holds water; no other director’s or writer’s work is so instantly identifiable. Ever since the famous ‘Like A Virgin’ opening of 1992 classic Reservoir Dogs Tarantino has drenched his films and characters in impossibly un-aging pop-culture references, twistedly intelligent black humour and inspired verbosity. They contain characters at once endearing, hilarious and awful and pendulously swing from cartoon action to horrific violence without taking a breath.

His latest, Django Unchained contains all these signifiers. Luckily, all these signifiers are great.

Somehow managing to (perhaps for the first time) mash-up sub-genres, the exploitation-Hollywood epic tells the story of freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) teaming up with bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to free his enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from southern plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

While the film is obviously Django’s story, the screen belongs to Christoph Waltz’s Schutlz. Granted a stunningly written, enigmatic, intriguing introduction that wonderfully sets out the brutal gentility of a man who adheres to rules he’s sure everyone is aware of, Schultz continues to captivate. This is an even finer performance than Waltz’s Oscar nominated role in Inglorious Basterds and every moment he is present the film is eminently fascinating. He’s so well written and characterized that every character he comes into contact with, major or minor, is immediately elevated by the interactions Schultz can allow them to have. He is charming, mysterious, unique, hilarious, disregarding of death and dictated by morbid etiquette – I really cannot give this character enough praise. Rarely have I enjoyed a character so fully.

So perfect is Waltz’s portrayal, and Tarantino’s writing, of Schultz, it actually puts Foxx’s Django at a distinct disadvantage. Foxx puts in a very good performance; he’s a talented actor who lives up to his roles in  Collateral  and the wonderful Ray (though I suspect his casting as Electro is a bad choice for the Spider-Man franchise…then again, The Amazing Spider-Man was a bad choice for the Spider-Man franchise). Tarantino goes against what many writers would naturally avoid by portraying Django as a noble savage. Something akin to Conan, he is fairly intelligent, incredibly skilled at combat and barbarous when serving his needs. It’s an intelligent decision by Tarantino that courteously respects his audience enough to know his characterization of Django as a noble savage is entirely independent of anything to do with his slavery. He’s cocky and gloating at that, which nicely balances out his romantic ambitions. However he just doesn’t have the magnetism that Shultz possesses. It’s like trying to compare a well built sports car, very appealing in its own right, to the Batmobile.

Christoph Waltz as King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

Christoph Waltz as King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

Standing up more favourably than Foxx’s effort is DiCaprio as captor Calvin Candie. He’s a disturbingly charismatic villain and its good to see DiCaprio subvert his usual screen persona to play someone this repellent and villainous. DiCaprio manages to play him with a real insanity. It’s the spitting, manic, vein and eye popping performance that really sets him apart from other Tarantino antagonists. There’s a monologue involving Candie, a skull and a hammer that’s got to be among the very best of Tarantino’s signature soliloquies.

Samuel L. Jackson makes his character Stephen his best performance in years. Upon leaving some people had to be alerted to the fact that was Samuel L. Jackson at all. The skill of his elderly makeup job matches his withered, crotchety, decrepit physical performance. He’s also brilliantly fascinating, being so entrenched in the Candie family he’s given an unprecedented level of equality by Candie. As such he enjoys the privilege and fights to defend the dynamic which affords this to him. The way treats other black people and the indignation of Candie’s fair treatment of Django is laugh out loud hilarious.

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Some may find the plot meanders too much, however much like last year’s On The Road this has the effect of letting us spend time in the company of great characters in an interesting time and place. Seeing Schultz training Django in the craft of the bounty hunter also nicely grows the character of Django without conspicuous story-involved contrivance. A scene involving a mask-wearing posse discussing the eye-holes in their sacks goes on for far too long and isn’t very funny, but other than this the scenes are very enjoyable.

Candie and a hammer. Skull not pictured.

Candie and a hammer. Skull not pictured.

Unfortunately Django Unchained takes the liberty to wander again when plot relevancy is really important. When tension is at its highest during the film’s climax. After a shootout so bloody Sam Pekinpah would be proud Tarantino bolts on what seems like a mini-story to take him away from the Candie Estate, Candieland, around the desert for a bit then back to accomplish what could have been achieved if he had never left the house. It brings to mind side-missions in an open-world video game, except Tarantino’s the one with the controller.

But aside from these niggles when Django finally does come back to Candieland it is a roaring conclusion, typically ultra-cool, brutal and involving. Most importantly of all, its intensely satisfying, leaving me hoping that Tarantino finally gets round to making a sequel, and its one involving Django.

by RJ Bayley.

What did you think of the exploitation-epic Django Unchained? Have YOU seen all 100+ Django films? Let us know in the comments below!

You can follow RJ Bayley on twitter: @Chunder_thunder
For direct updates on articles and reviews follow Goats In The Machine on twitter: @GoatsInMachine

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Comments
  1. Louise says:

    So pleased to see Christopher Waltz pick up a Bafta for this. What a deserving win and a gracious acceptance speech.

    • A well deserved win! I’m not certain why he was a supporting actor though, seemed like he was a pretty main part of the movie to me; most of the film just those two!

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