With his trained eye for postmodernism and intertextuality, you would have imagined by now that Hollywood could tame Quentin Tarantino’s enthusiasm and confine him to traditional narrative conventions. Never one to be dictated to, 2009′s ‘Inglorious Basterds’ marked a new chapter for QT. In marrying a historical context in the form of World War 2 to his unique visual style and rhythmic dialogue, he effectively blurred the lines between fact and the fantastical. Almost serving as a ‘companion piece’ to ‘Basterds’, the director attempts the same feat here with this hotly anticipated delve into the ‘Spaghetti Western’.
Immersed in 1850′s American ‘South’, we’re immediately knee deep in the horrific and inexplicable subject matter that coerces through the film’s narrative vein. As a character who originally made a sizeable mark back in 1966, Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx plays Django. Baring the scars relentlessly applied by his former owners whilst dealing with the emotional trauma of being ‘removed’ from his beloved Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), our lead protagonist is led on route to his new plantation. The last figure he imagines to clap eyes on en route, is a mischevious German speaking bounty hunter posing as a talented dentist.
Enter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), with his own finely tuned ‘flesh for cash’ agenda. Eagerly acquiring the services of one Django offering in exchange the ‘freedom’ he craves, they instantly strike up an understanding and join forces to fulfil their ‘objectives’. Schultz, without the luxury of seeing the potential victims first hand, is on the hunt for a blood splattering brotherly collective called the Brittles. Reluctantly buying into the remorseless nature of Schultz’s work for the Winter, Django sets his sights on ‘Candyland’ owned by the devilish Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio) where Broomhilda is held ‘captive’.
With the notion of slavery saturating every frame of ‘Unchained’, many feared that his indulgement of artistic expression would stifle the quality of storytelling and dilute the subject’s severity. So it’s testament to Tarantino that such elements in fact elevate the narrative punch, being in turns direct in its brutal visual depictions yet subverting expectations with precision-timed hilarity. He serves the material a provocative ‘service’ yet is unafraid to hold a mirror up to the inhabitants of that era blinded by their narrow minded views, perfectly encapsulated in a side splitting Ku Klux Klan sequence.
Accentuating the ‘Spaghetti’ aspect in the genre’s title, it’s no surprise Tarantino soaks the film in ‘tomato sauce’. Retaining the sudden jolty fashion of previous works for such gun/whip play, the execution is sublime as the stakes are ramped up for a fierce final third. ‘Django’ doesn’t skimper on the classic visual aesthetics, as the sharp zooms into focus and picturesque shots of the landscape as characters ‘glide’ across the screen are on display here in all their distinctive glory.
With well thought out dynamics between the heavyweight cast, Tarantino draws out outstanding performances. Waltz’s Schultz, a figure defiantly against ill treatment of black people yet works it to his advantage, juxtaposes brilliantly with Stephen’s (Samuel L Jackson on fine form) house slave’s misjudged loyalty.
Foxx’s rise from timid slave to all conquering bad ass with peculiar taste in uniforms is thoroughly engaging and whilst Schultz may acknowledge Django has an eye for the theatrics, Dicaprio’s Calvin ultimately steals the show. In a real departure of a role, Leo’s unashamedly OTT and despicable portrayal of Candie whilst remaining understated in his character’s nuances is wonderfully played.
The excessive use of the infamous ‘N’ word may prompt frequent gasps and ‘Django’ may drag his heels occasionally within the leisurely 165 minute running time. However, Tarantino’s undeniable passion wins out. Complete with a memorable soundtrack paying homage to the likes of Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, ‘Django Unchained’ is an electrifying and thought provoking piece of filmmaking that rightfully takes its place among QT’s finest work.