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Django Unchained: Movie Review

By Darren Bevan

Published: 5:47PM Monday January 21, 2013


Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo di Caprio, Samuel L Jackson, Kerry Washington
Director: Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino's back in true trademark skewed style.

It's set in America in 1858 and Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who's been separated from his wife Broomhilda (Washington) and part of a chain gang. He's sought out by former dentist turned bounty hunter Dr Schultz (a stunningly great turn from Christoph Waltz). Schultz seeks out Django as he knows what three of his quarry look like - and the pair form an alliance, working through the winter and capturing bad guys, dead or alive (mostly dead though in bloody Tarantino fashion).

But Django's got one thing on his mind - the return of his wife. And making a deal with Schultz, the pair set off for slave laden estate Candie land owned by Leonardo di Caprio's Monsieur Calvin Candie (who has a side line in mandingo fights) and run by Stephen (a cowed Samuel L Jackson) to free her once and for all.

What do you say about Django Unchained?

Violent, pulpy, bloody, funny and trademark Tarantino, it's a revenge flick through and through. Filled with, of course, historical liberties, it's a stylish film which has Quentin's pawprints all over it - from the fantastic soundtrack to patented patter and violence and zoom shots. (Plus an old Columbia logo at the start of the film sets the reverential tone for the westerns and cinema from days of yore.)

And yet, it's anchored by a tremendous turn by Christoph Waltz, who commands the screen from the moment he arrives on it, drawn by a horse and cart with a giant wobbling tooth attached by a spring on its roof. Through a calm and intelligent exterior, Waltz is a towering presence over the film and in some ways, overshadows everyone who appears - with the exception of Leonardo di Caprio, whose flouncy cotton plantation owner Calvin Candie is all flourish and charm, until his anger is aroused at which point the tension has you on the edge of your seat before it all explodes in violence.  

So it's fair to say that  Jamie Foxx brings a quiet and measured performance as Django, but it's not until the final part of the film that he actually gets to shine, because of how towering Waltz and DiCaprio are. Even Samuel L Jackson as the toadying and calculating runner of the home Stephen is more sidelined by these - but at the end of the day, you can't have the final mix without all the ingredients and it's not to suggest their performances are lesser, but that their superior turns pale when compared to the electrifying performances from the other two. Each get their time to shine away from the others and when they do, you can't take your eyes off the screen.

Django Unchained also suffers a little from a long winding narrative, with some extra excursions (including Tarantino's bizarre appearance and attempt at an Aussie accent) seeming better suited to the cutting room floor than in this 2 hour 45 minute epic, occasionally over-indulgent and sprawling vengeance flick. A little more expeditious editing could have turned this occasionally sprawling N-word littered Western into a tighter piece without losing the character touches and humorous moments which stand out.  

Pulpy, trashy and true  Tarantino, Django Unchained is a stunning and audacious piece of film-making which has artistic and stylish flourishes aplenty and offers up cinema lovers the typical Tarantino cocktail of furious film-making, guaranteed to nourish and at the same time, confront with its brutal - and brilliant - touches.