Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio
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“I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.”
Three quarters of the way through Django Unchained, someone says that after doing something completely out of character. The fact that it’s an illogical excuse to start a massive shootout niggles slightly. The fact that it paves the way for one of the most off-putting (and dreadful) cameos in recent memory is almost unforgiveable.
But that’s what Tarantino deals in these days: unforgiveables. His recent films have traded in revenge; scorned victims taking it upon themselves to right unforgiveable wrongs. As long as they have moral justice on their side, they’re within their rights to splatter blood everywhere in full B-movie glory.
Plucked from a slave line by Christoph Waltz’s wonderfully verbose German dentist, Dr. Schultz, Jamie Foxx’s Django discovers he has a knack for wielding a pistol – and the pair turn bounty hunters. “Killing white folk for money?” he purrs with silky grit. “What’s not to like?”
Notching up scalps like a superhero earning his spurs, Django’s transformation into legend is as much as comic book as it is Spaghetti Southern; alongside a great use of Morricone (who composes a new song for the film) and Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography, which turns Texan trees into silhouettes, the film boasts a cracking nemesis in Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). Leo’s brown-teethed pimp is a delightfully foul piece of work, playing off Django to create a nail-biting showdown that stretches out luxuriously over a dinner table like a smug cat.
Amid the cartoonish exploitation, though, is a surprisingly deep look at slavery, thanks to Calvin’s butler, Stephen. Played with vitriol by Samuel L. Jackson, the sycophantic head of the house sits on Candie’s shoulder, echoing everything he says. There are hints of bitter self-loathing in Stephen’s insults, but what really smarts is his apparent submissiveness to his master; an institutionalised servant.
It’s Jackson’s best role since Jackie Brown – the perfect contrast to Tarantino’s funny side – and provokes far more than the script’s use of the “n” word, or the bloody sport of Mandingo fighting.
That balance between silly and serious is well judged by Tarantino, fuelling the popcorn entertainment with a strong, even restrained, burst of retribution. In Django, though, that cathartic moment of vengeance is reached before the final quarter. And then Quentin gets carried away and starts shooting everyone for no reason.
Does Quentin think that we need a big pay-off to keep our attention? Or is that unapologetic excuse, so out of character, him saying that he’s the one who needs it? That, of course, is what makes Quentin Tarantino Quentin Tarantino. Sadly, it’s also what makes Django Unchained vaguely unsatisfying. It might have been great. If only he could’ve resisted.
Django Unchained is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 7-day free trial.
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