Django Unchained excels, Waltz and all

Art & Lit Screen
django-unchained-2I’ll start with a statement about Django Unchained, and then I’ll spend most of the rest of the review justifying it. Django Unchained is cool. Like, really fucking cool.

So why is this film, rolling in on a wave of hype and expectation, so cool? Well, for a start, there’s Tarantino. Django seems to be one glorious canvas for his much vaunted love of pop culture and film; three hours of pure, unabashed, unadulterated Quentin.  The film isn’t a true Western, it’s a pastiche of Westerns; a weird, unfiltered take on them, all lavished with trademark Tarantino flair; a delirious Spaghetti Western injected with Reservoir Dogs. It’s there in those times when the triumphant crescendo of violins in the score is almost vintage Ennio Morricone, when the shots of Jamie Foxx standing in doorways with his shadow thrown forwards against a wall are so close to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly that you can almost hear Clint Eastwood. It’s all Tarantino in the slick and brutal gunfights with the outlandish blood, the heaps of pulped gore spewing from bullet holes strafing through the bad guys. It’s all Tarantino in the snarky dialogues, characters trading lines laced with the darkest of humours with laconic ease.

But Tarantino also adapts. This film is harsher than his others, and there are times when he pulls back the cartoonish quality from his violence to really let the horror show. A slave is ripped apart by hunting dogs as Calvin Candie (Di Caprio) watches on, Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda is whipped mercilessly and there is a particularly harrowing scene centred around a mandingo fight; a visceral fight to the death by two slaves chosen for bloodsport. The film is also more straightforward than his other films. There are no multiple storylines, no real flashbacks and no Mexican standoffs. Just a revenge/rescue story about Dr King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) trying to find and save Django’s wife, the oddly named Broomhilda von Shaft. And to get to her, they need to get past her owner, Calvin Candie and his manservant Stephen (Samuel L Jackson).

One thing is for certain. This cast does not disappoint. At all. Waltz has just been nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his role as Schultz, and that is a nomination that is thoroughly justified. His polite smile, his clipped diction, his delivery of delicious one-liners, the very slight smirk as he kills his bounties; they are all brilliant. He’s like everyone’s favourite uncle except for the electric dark streak. Foxx is a real presence, his Django oozing power and determination, every gaze infused with bitterness. And while they are both excellent, the real highlights must be Di Caprio and Jackson. They truly are sensational. Di Caprio is Calvin Candie, the rich and pampered head of a slaving business. He’s petulant and seedy, his simmering rage hidden by a Southern accent and his wheedling smile. He brags and boasts and entertains, he smirks and gestures and parades, but he still oozes danger. A danger that is perfectly complemented by Samuel L Jackson’s Stephen. The main manservant, he is a self-loather, a black man who believes he is white, who wishes to keep blacks as slaves and doesn’t believe that they should ride horses. White haired and rickety, he’s also loud and rambunctious and annoying, the stereotypical angry grandfather.  But he’s also a bastard. A viciously dark character whose true venom is veiled by his over-the-top black attitude: you wouldn’t expect someone who thinks a black Hercules should be called Niggerlese to be so cold.

I don’t know if I’ve done enough to justify my original claim. But when you watch the very final scene, when you watch the explosions and the carnage and hear Tupac in the background, hopefully you’ll understand why this should go down as a personal highlight in Tarantino’s illustrious portfolio.