DJANGO UNCHAINED (MA)
Reviewer: SIMON WEAVING
Quentin Tarantino unchains – or rather unleashes – his precocious ability to have his wicked way with history, genre and satire in this burlesque blaxploitation spaghetti-western mash-up,that's as mad as a meat axe and twice as bloody.
Django (Jamie Foxx) is a shackled black slave, rescued on his way to auction by dentist-turned-bounty-hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz is initially less interested in Django than his former owners, who are on Schultz's list of nasties from the luridly Wild West with a price on their heads. But Schultz quickly takes a liking to Django, makes him a partner in his killing endeavours, and decides to help him rescue his missing wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).
Also a slave, she is working at Candyland – the extravagantly opulent estate of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a Southern gentleman of dubious morality who likes nothing more than a fat cigar and a wager on black slaves wrestling to the death. Django and Schultz must find a way to get into – and out of – Candyland, creepily managed by vigilant old slave and de facto butler, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
With unashamed references to the Siegfried and Brunhilde myth, 1950s westerns, and B-grade exploitation films from the 1970s, Tarantino is outrageously confident and playful, stringing together gloriously written sequences of dry humour with over-the-top splatter shoot-outs, and moments of pure comic farce. (One scene of Ku-Klux-Klan members complaining about the difficulties of wearing pillowcases while on horseback is pure Monty Python-style genius.)
But Tarantino also slyly sneaks a serious commentary on slavery through the side-door of his narrative (the film makes a fascinating and bizarre companion-piece to Lincoln). What Tarantino is really unchaining here is the dark history of the 1850s, usually portrayed by Hollywood as a time when the white man was introducing civilisation to the Westward frontier. Using ludicrous violence and piercing wit, he blasts open a fascinating gash in the guts of the American dream.
Waltz reprises his delicious performance from Inglourious Basterds and is utterly watchable as the central force of the story. DiCaprio and Jackson are also in excellent and lavish form, while Foxx plays the hero with restraint and dignity.
You know that, at some point, Tarantino will turn up, and he does – in perhaps the film's most unnecessary and self-indulgent moment. I couldn't help but think that his long-time editor Sally Menke (who died, too young, shortly after Tarantino's last film) would have talked him out of it. But it's all part of the madness we've come to expect from the writer-director. Long? Yes. Fun? Totally.