FILM REVIEW: Django Unchained
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
3 years on from his thoroughly enjoyable alternate history war film, Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino brings us his latest genre-bending homage-fest, Django Unchained.
The film sets out as it aims to continue, with Tarantino diving straight into his usual mode of borrowing from a plethora of other films. The title song and the titular character, Django (played by Jamie Foxx), are both taken from the 1966 Italian Western, Django. Even Franco Nero, who played Django in the 66 film, makes a cameo appearance in Tarantino’s film, having a short exchange with Foxx’s Django about the name.
These are just a handful of the film references littered throughout Django Unchained. Others include Gone With the Wind, Mandingo, Shaft, and Son of a Gunfighter. But what’s important here is that the film never loses itself beneath all these little nods. Tarantino critics have often complained about his lack of ‘originality’ as it were, because of his use of scenes and shots from other films. But in my view, that never detracts from making Tarantino’s films his own. What he has done and continues to do, is assemble all these chunks of other films into one great entertaining cinematic collage, and this is certainly the case in Django Unchained.
Once again, Tarantino has assembled an amazing cast, resulting in incredible performances all round. All three of the leads, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz (winning his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar after Inglourious Basterds), and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie. But the stand-out for me was Samuel L. Jackson, as Candie’s servant, Stephen.
Over the last few years I’ve got used to seeing Sam Jackson play a slightly modified version of the same badass character in all the Marvel films, Snakes on a Plane, Jumper and the Star Wars prequels. But in Django he finally gets the chance to really act again, playing a hateful, villainous old man with a Southern accent. And it’s one of the finest performances I’ve seen him give. In fact, how Waltz got the Oscar nomination over Jackson is totally beyond me because he absolutely stole the show. Can’t say I’ve ever hated Sam Jackson on screen, but Stephen just about pushes it, and that’s really what you want from a movie villain – someone you dislike enough to want to see get their comeuppance.
Tarantino’s screenplay is as sharp as ever, deservedly earning him his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It includes great deals of tension, with a notable one at Candie’s home to rival the La Louisiane bar scene from Inglourious Basterds. It also features a lot of the dark, irreverent humour that has come to be one of his trademarks. One scene, involving a group of townsmen in white hoods trying to kill Schultz and Django, breaks down into catty complaining over the quality of the hoods, as a means of ridiculing the Ku Klux Klan (and parodying DW Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation). The scene is one of the funniest in the film, and the audience broke out into laughter both times I saw it at the cinema.
One of my few gripes for Django Unchained was the running time, which, at 2 hours 45 minutes, might be off-putting, and it really does feel like you’re watching for quite a long time. However, in spite of the ‘what year is it’ feeling after the film’s finished, Django never really seems to drag or get boring. There’s always something happening on the screen or in the soundtrack or in the dialogue to keep you entertained and attentive.
But for what it’s worth, I could hardly find any faults with Django Unchained. I’m not sure I enjoyed it as much as Basterds, but it certainly gets me excited for Tarantino’s next effort, whichever genre he decides to tear apart next, and it’s certainly worth a watch.