Jan 17 2013 By Ian Bunting
The eighth film by Quentin Tarantino is the director’s tribute to the spaghetti western genre, with the 1966 movie Django acting as an inspiration.
Jamie Foxx stars as slave Django, who is granted freedom and trained to be a bounty hunter by Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), which puts him on a direct path towards ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio).
Few would doubt the quality of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction-infused early work but some of his more recent efforts (Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds) have split cinema audiences right down the middle.
Django Unchained will likely do the same, but I’m more on the positive side of the fence.
While this is no Pulp Fiction — and the chances of a Best Picture Oscar win are virtually zero — this movie is riotous fun with some memorable performances.
As ever, the maverick director has courted a lot of controversy, this time over using the theme of the black slave trade, but I think it’s important to realise that this is Tarantino at his over-the-top best.
The western elements mix with material we’ve seen from him before; Blaxploitation inspiration (Jackie Brown) and the revenge movie (Kill Bill).
Typical Tarantino traits are present and correct; a terrific soundtrack, with renowned composer Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western-inspired tracks mixing in with some newly written R’n’B music, plenty of lengthy conversations, violence containing geysers of the red stuff and quick-fire camera zooms.
The cinematography is the best yet in a Tarantino film, with winter-set scenes and the lush greens surrounding the Candie Land plantation among the visual treats to deservedly earn cinematographer Robert Richardson an Academy Award nomination.
One of the best selling points about Django Unchained is the chance to see Di Caprio take on a first real villainous role and he is wonderfully charismatic as an at times camp, yet menacing skull-splitting (literally) dandy.
Inglourious Basterds scene-stealer Waltz is also on fire as a polite, well-spoken mentor with stunning quick-fire weapon skills.
Tarantino favourite Samuel L Jackson provides loads of laughs as Candie’s mean-spirited aide Stephen.
Foxx’s lead suffers in comparison to his charisma-packed co-stars but his journey from child-like learning from Schultz in a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-like first third, to full-on hero gunslinger, via lots of uncoiled rage, makes for a fine character arc.
The film’s biggest flaw is a far too long second act that drags beyond belief; a real pity given the strength of the bookends.
But the fun, flair and turns by Waltz and DiCaprio make this one trip to the wild west well worth taking.