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Django Unchained


Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio,Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Dennis Christopher, James Remar, David Steen, Dana Gourrier, Nichole Galicia, Laura Cayouette, Sammi Rotibi, Donahue Fontenot, Escalante Lundy, Miriam F. Glover, Don Johnson, Bruce Dern, Robert Carradine, Michael Parks, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, Franco Nero, Quentin Tarantino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Christoph Waltz neatly sums up his lethal calling as a bounty hunter with, “I kill people and sell their corpses for cash”, and he does just that in excess in Tarantino’s surprisingly entertaining take on Spaghetti Westerns. Django Unchained which is his first good movie since Jackie Brown, bears all Tarantino’s trademarks, notably excessive, gorily graphic violence and references to other movies. That said, he marshals his trademark tropes impressively and very effectively in telling the saga of Waltz and Foxx, whom he rescues as a slave and, unshackling him, gives him his freedom and persuades him to join his profession and hunt down and kill the Brittle Brothers.

It’s an odyssey that suits Foxx – excellent as a vengeful villain – just fine since it enables him to rescue his wife Kerry Washington from vile Tennessee plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio who owns her as one of his legion of slaves, a situation that predictably leads to more bloodshed and an explosive situations as Foxx exacts his revenge.

Impressively Tarantino also succeeds strongly in vividly depicting the horrors of slavery (the action takes place in the American South prior to the Civil War) within the context of action, action and more action, with Waltz, who waltzes away with the acting honours, rightly receiving one of the film’s five Oscar nominations for a powerful performance that overshadows those of his costars.

That said, Foxx scores as the slave-turned-gunslinger, while DiCaprio hits all the marks in bringing his unpleasant but effervescent character to enjoyable life and clearly savours his ripe Southern accent as a major aid to a memorable performance. Washington does well in her supporting role and Samuel L Jackson rises to the demands of his ‘Uncle Tom’ role as DiCaprio’s servile servant.

There’s even some telling dark comedy, most notably when a legion of would-be killers ride out seeking vengeance while wearing home made fabric masks that make it hard for them to see where they’re going. Tarantino tops this amusing conceit by giving Jonah Hill a line.

Tarantino has added a legion of familiar faces to fill the supporting roles. Those actors do all that is required of them and do it well, most of them hiding behind beards that contain enough hair to carpet Tennessee and make your task of recognizing Don Johnson, James Russo, Russ Tamblyn (minus his six brothers and seven brides), Bruce Dern, Robert Carradine and Michael Parks among them all the more difficult. Franco Nero, the original celluloid ‘Django’, rightly returns, but not, of course, in the title role.

The beards are fine and in period context. The one thing that really does need cutting, however is a truly embarrassing cameo role by a performer with an unconvincing Australian accent and, sadly, no beard to disguise the appalling to-camera gurning that he substitutes for a credible performance. Tarantino should have fired him after the first rehearsal. Unfortunately that didn’t happen since the awful ‘actor’ is Tarantino himself in a truly terrible cameo role. Hitchcock got away with his trademark appearances in his films by deliberately doing nothing or very little on screen. Tarantino should follow his example.

Happily, Tarantino’s slip doesn’t damage the film. It’s a very minor blip in an otherwise commanding Spaghetti Western (or, more geographically accurately, given its Tennessee setting, commanding ‘Southern’) which is liberally covered in blood rather than the more usual Spaghetti accompaniment of ketchup.

It looks terrific – Robert Richardson’s cinematography rightly receives an Oscar nomination, Tarantino‘s smart and satisfying screenplay earns another, as does the movie itself.

Django Unchained is the first Tarantino film I’ve praised in 13 years. It was well worth the wait and something of a masterpiece, especially when compared with drivel that was Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds.

I’ve seen it twice and look forward keenly to seeing it again.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Sony (Weinstein Co). Colour.
165 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 16 Jan 2013