Confession time: when it comes to the films of Quentin Tarantino, I’m a little bit behind the times. I only saw ‘Pulp Fiction’ for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and there’s a multitude of his other films that I shamefully have yet to watch. A film that I had seen before though, was ‘Django Unchained’, and I thought it was high time I refreshed myself with this Tarantino western ahead of the release of ‘The Hateful Eight’ next year. I enjoyed the film the first time I saw it, without being completely wowed, but revisiting it with a newfound, more mature passion for cinema only served to convince me what a remarkable piece of filmmaking ‘Django Unchained’ is.
Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) is a slave no longer, after he is freed by a German bounty hunter who goes by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Django agrees to help Dr. Schultz with his ensuing bounty missions, in exchange for the promise that the German will accompany him to Mississippi in order to rescue his enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who finds herself under the ownership of a brutal and merciless plantation owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his elderly sidekick, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Django and Schultz then, devise a master plan in order to rescue Broomhilda, but their plan soon starts to unravel once they find themselves in the heart of Candie’s plantation.
This is such a character driven narrative, so it makes sense to jump straight in to the acting performances, as there are plenty to be admired. The standouts, for sure, are Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. Waltz’s character offers charm, charisma and comedy throughout and he is a pleasure to watch; a worthy winner of his Academy Award. DiCaprio’s performance however, could not be more different, and is truly terrifying in places. Not least the scene with the skull on the table, which, having watched this scene with the knowledge that the blood on DiCaprio’s hand is real, just casts a whole new, horrifying light over the scene. Jeez! Leo certainly instilled a fear in me this time around, that I somehow didn’t experience previously. Kerry Washington too, performs her role as a helpless victim very convincingly, and in her relatively short appearance, manages to turn in a lasting display. It wouldn’t be a Tarantino film without an appearance from Samuel. L now would it, who is characteristically amusing, as the twisted, old sycophant, Stephen. His performance is hilarious and makes a complete parody of his character, and I certainly got the impression that Jackson and Tarantino had a lot of fun when seeing this character come to life during filming. Jamie Foxx, the star of the show, was actually somewhat muted to begin with in the lead role. But, as the film progresses he appears to grow in confidence, balancing two completely contrasting personas into one endearing character by the end.
Before watching ‘Django Unchained’ for a second time, I had forgotten just how funny this film is. Now, whilst that might be a crude and controversial thing to say given the subject matter, this film encapsulates the dark, comedic element of Tarantino’s work perfectly, supported by a brilliantly matched musical score. The infamous bag-over-the-head scene had me in stitches, and sharp, witty dialogue had me chuckling throughout. Tarantino juxtaposes this comedy alongside harsh reminders of the brutality suffered by millions of victims of the slave trade, and I think the relationship between the comedy and the violence significantly embellishes both. The violence in itself is definitely something worth mentioning, as it borders on ridiculous at times. Even for Tarantino, this film is excessively violent, and at times it feels like an experiment to see how much blood splatter they can get in one shot. It did verge on ridiculous, and in any other production, the graphic nature of the film could be criticised. But in this instance, it should be celebrated, as it fits in perfectly with the film’s tone, taking everything to the limits and then some.
As a result of this recent watching, I think it’s fair to say that ‘Django Unchained’ is up there as one of my favourite films of all time. It’s ability to be so light hearted about such a dark subject matter was something I found absolutely compelling and it’s an extraordinary achievement in filmmaking. The acting is flawless and the messy nature of the film, that some people have complained about, actually made it even more interesting to watch, in my opinion. This film is so much fun from beginning to end, that the 2 hour 35 minute run time will seem like nothing, and if anything you’ll be calling for more by the end. A film that didn’t wow me first time around, has this time convinced me that Tarantino might just be a genius. I think I will probably be digging out some of his other works sooner rather than later as a result of this, and boy am I excited to do so.
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson