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USA 2012
Directed by
Quentin Tarantino
165 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Django Unchained

Synopsis: It is Texas,1858 and bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), whom he adopts as a business partner. After a profitable winter, they head to Mississippi to free Django's wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who they find on a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Recently I have grown very tired of the amount of violence in American films. Watching Django Unchained I realised that it’s not the violence so much as the no-neck, knuckle-dragging stupidity of it when formulaically perpetrated by an unending series of super-macho action heroes wasting evil geniuses and their obliging goons. Although Quentin Tarantino can certainly be criticised for his indulgence in violence no-one can say that he is simply pandering to adolescent mouth-breathers. If violence is for idiots, Tarantino is its idiot-savant. Whilst his genre-fixated movies evidence a base level developmental retardation they also exhibit flashes of brilliance that are only possible from someone whose ability to work their material approaches genius, even if of a limited nature. Django Unchained demonstrates this in spades. It’s violent, comical, provocative and for the first time bumps the director up to the same league as those masters of genre manipulation, the Coen brothers.  Tarantino has managed to deliver a film that works as a whole, as its nomination for a Best Picture Oscar indicates.

Stylistically, Django Unchained might owe its main debt to the Spaghetti Western (Django was the name of Sergio Corbucci's classic 1966 spaghetti Western starring Franco Nero who appears briefly here), but it is no mere genre knock-off. Rather it is a brilliantly thought-out film that invests its basic form and familiar typology of characters with a smart and fresh story and imbues the whole shebang with the kind of provocative take on black-white relations in America of the kind that we know from early Spike Lee films (apparently Lee has gone on record as criticizing the film, which has to be some kind of irony). Yes, there’s plenty of violence but until the big set-pieces towards the end of the film when it reaches wildly hyperbolic levels, it’s surprisingly restrained, most of it occurring off-camera.

Like Scorsese and the Coens, Tarantino knows his film references and Django Unchained is, amongst other things, an impressively well-crafted film that shows close attention to detail in every department (the only oddity is a woman with a red bandanna over her face who appears insistently in a couple of scenes but eventually plays no part in proceedings).  

The cast is, as usual with Tarantino, one of the main drawcards of the film. Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx are excellent in the headlining roles but Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson are strong presences in support whilst there are brief cameos from actors as diverse as Bruce Dern and Jonah Hill, not to mention a portly Tarantino himself as an Aussie (in the company of John Jarratt) bushwacker. .

Most people who will go to see this film will do so because of Tarantino’s name. I can’t imagine them being disappointed. It’s possibly his most accomplished work to date.




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