The release of any new Quentin Tarantino film is generally regarded as a cinematic ‘event’, but the hype surrounding 'Django Unchained' reached pretty much unprecedented levels. There were concerns about Tarantino’s extreme approach to violence, rumblings about his liberal use of the n-word, and even one heated Channel 4 interview that coined the inspired re(butt)al "I’m shutting your butt down". With such a raft of controversies, was it all worth it? In my opinion: unequivocally, emphatically, yes.
Tarantino’s ‘southern’ – set in the dark pre-Civil War era, when the practice of slavery was still rife in the Southern States – revolves around the figure of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who has been forcibly separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) following an unsuccessful escape attempt.
Whilst being transported as part of a chain gang by his new ‘masters’, the Speck Brothers, Django’s party is waylaid by one Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a dentist turned ruthless bounty hunter who offers Django a unique opportunity – freedom in exchange for his help in identifying Schultz’s next targets, the Brittle Brothers.
Django and Schultz’s partnership turns out to be a profitable one, and after a winter spent instructing Django in the art of bounty-hunting, Schultz agrees to assist Django on his quest to recover his wife from the clutches of a particularly nasty plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his equally repulsive house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
Needless to say, it’s a blood-thirsty tale of revenge, and one that sees bullets flying and blood splattering all over the place in true Tarantino fashion – and almost poetically in one case, where there’s an oddly beautiful shot of arterial spray bespeckling a crop of perfectly white flowers. Of course, while this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s very much in keeping with the director’s oeuvre (so not much of a shock) – as is the fantastically clever, nuanced and often hilarious dialogue.
In fact, 'Django Unchained' is funnier than people might expect, with numerous inspired one-liners and the odd moment of gleeful, riotous, laugh-out-loud indulgence – as when Schultz and Django run into an inept group of pre-KKK racists with problematic masks.
Whilst the script is exceptional, it’s the cast who really make it special, with Foxx, DiCaprio, Waltz, Washington and Jackson all shining in their respective roles. DiCaprio practically bristles with charisma as the abhorrent yet perversely charming Candie, while Waltz once again (after being equally brilliant in 'Inglourious Basterds') steals every scene, and Samuel L. Jackson is Superb – with a capital S – as Candie’s toadying house slave, perfectly malign and menacing.
Although some may criticise Tarantino for trivialising such a horrific chapter of American history, as the director himself has pointed out, this is not a ‘big issue movie’, but rather a spaghetti western reimagined in the setting of the Deep South. 'Django Unchained' offers a clear condemnation of slavery, fascism and racism, and it does so with a remarkable amount of flair, humanity and humour – in short, a fantastic film.
'Django Unchained' is out now in UK cinemas.