“Although released in January, it will take one hell of a movie to knock this off the number one spot for 2013...”
Following on from Death Proof, a blip in an otherwise illustrious career for director Quentin Tarantino, the ingenious filmmaker returned with Inglorious Basterds, and now, three years on from the Oscar-winning success, comes Django Unchained. Once more Tarantino is giving the power to the underdog resulting in an exhilarating and rewarding experience for the viewer, yet this time rather than it being the Jews, it is African American slaves who are now the dominant force.
Set in the Deep South, Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, a dentist turned bounty hunter who needs the assistance of a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to help identify his desired victims, to whom Django had once been enslaved. When the deed is done, the doctor insists on repaying his newly instated colleague, not only by allowing him privileges that other black people aren't given, but also by helping him track down his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who they believe to be in the possession of a barbarous plantation owner called Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Released just a week before Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, both pictures take place during a similar time period – that of the mid-19th century – and are both concerned with the theme of slavery and the disdain shown towards African Americans during such a time. However, the two pictures could not have taken a more different approach to the subject, as Lincoln is incredibly patriotic and pro-America, whilst this is the exact opposite. Tarantino's anti-American stance is epitomised in the fact that even the hero of the piece is a German, who, ironically, were the villains in his last picture.
Django Unchained is just Tarantino at his very best: it's stylish, it's elaborate, it's insanely cool, it's, well, it's Tarantino, and that can only ever be a good thing. You have to suspend your disbelief where he is concerned, as everything is enhanced for cinematic effect. It's what Tarantino does, and it works. The dialogue isn't naturalistic, but it has that flow to it, comparable to a hip hop track, which, coincidentally, makes up the majority of this film’s memorable soundtrack. Playing contemporary hip hop in a period piece and a western film to boot, is nothing short of a masterstroke. There is one scene where the creativity of the black race is questioned and ridiculed by the character of Calvin Candie, only for Tarantino to then throw in a Tupac song minutes later. It's just brilliant.
Django Unchained is a film that will no doubt cause controversy upon its release, as despite the rather sensitive subject matter, this is arguably Tarantino's funniest feature film yet, and he can therefore be accused of being somewhat flippant about the matter at hand. But it's intelligent and witty and tackles the serious themes too, managing to highlight the disturbing, harrowing aspects yet maintaining the cinematic joviality which gives him such a license to do so - much like he did in Inglorious Basterds, staying on the right side of morality, and being able to determine what is acceptable in mainstream cinema, and what isn't.
What does also help the film along are some outstanding performances from the leading protagonists. Waltz steals the show once more, and although he is playing an inherently good person, and you know fully well he is a good person, you are still on edge throughout, just anticipating him doing something rash and unexpected. Foxx is also impressive, turning in a humble yet effective performance, while DiCaprio is brilliantly sinister in his role, providing the film with the majority of the more uneasy sequences to sit through. A mention must also go by way of Samuel L. Jackson who plays Calvin's butler Stephen, in one of the most chilling performances of his career, while Tarantino himself turns in an amazingly terrible cameo performance. He just can't help himself. It has got to be the worst Aussie accent ever heard on the big screen too, in a good way of course.
Although released in January, it will take one hell of a movie to knock this off the number one spot for 2013, as Django Unchained has absolutely everything. It's one of the funniest films you'll see this year, and one of the most intense, and dramatic, while at the heart of the entire feature is a poignant, and alluring romantic story. It's a simply a djoyous cinematic experience. The “D” is silent.