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Django Unchained - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
Published January 26th 2013
Tarantino's Six-Shooter Serving of Revenge in the South
Theatrical Release Poster (image courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

Upon inspection of the poster for this sort-of Western, one can't help but marvel at the sheer audacity and sick humour that comes in casting 'Leo The Hero' as the masochistic, hammer-sporting villain. But then again, we have come to expect such brash trend subversion from Quentin Tarantino and as it may come as no surprise to many, the video store clerk turned movie-making aficionado triumphs once again with the wickedly entertaining Django Unchained.

Set in the wilderness of the pre-Civil War South, Tarantino's latest addition to his already blood-soaked resumé begins with bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) acquiring whip-scarred slave Django (Jamie Foxx in an amazing career turn) for information concerning a trio of outlaws Schultz is in search of. They journey across the Old West and form a strangely endearing gunslinger partnership reminiscent of Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid [1969]. In return, Django receives his freedom. His first order of business: find and retrieve his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from wealthy plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, also in an amazing career turn). Like many of Tarantino's twisted characters from past films, Candie is not what you might call a calm and centered individual. He behaves in a manner that suggests he is perpetually enjoying himself - particularly during the Mandingo fighting - and while he is accommodating and charismatic, our dynamic duo soon discover the apple to be rotten on the inside.

The Good, The Bad, and The Tobacco (image courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

With exuberant flare the story moves at a comfortable pace, filling us in with Django's torturous backstory along the way, despite having distinct (but unlabelled) chapters and an ending that might be a little too abrupt. But driven by dialogue that can only be described as brilliant, there is an even balance of humour, viciousness, intensity and sincerity. Wonderful one-liners are sprinkled throughout an otherwise merciless tale of revenge and while it may appear to be a simple revenge story at its core, it's a delicious concoction of acid western and splatter comedy. This invigorating combination suggests that Tarantino is the child prodigy of John Ford and Sam Peckinpah, both of whom he has cited as influences on his work. Not unlike Ford's classic The Searchers [1956], themes of racism and slavery are at the forefront. This lends the drama a distinct class structure and order, allowing for tensions to break the boundaries of 'acceptable behaviour' and explode (quite literally) into sequences of overtly bloody action that compete with Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch [1969] for the 'Highest Body Count in a Western' Award.

Content aside for a moment, Robert Richardson's vivid and artistic cinematography syndicates elements of the vista-epic and exploitative madness with very energetic results. With a gloriously corny combination of crash zooms, dynamic angles, overexposed key lit scenes (something of a trademark of his) and wide sweeping vistas, a clear uncompromising vision sustains and mirrors the erratic-but-exciting editing style, much like the preceding WW2 retelling Inglorious Basterds [2009]. In reflecting upon this visual style in relation to Tarantino's taste for violence, the story doesn't choose to be violent and unrelenting as a way of enhancing the conflict. The violence isn't just one element of the story - it is the story. These are violent characters in a violent world and so the violence is the very essence of the drama. How the characters react to and use violence as a means of finding purpose and creating reason is paramount to discovering it's meaning. This is what graduates the film beyond the explicitly gratuitous nature of splatter movies and develops into a symphonic thrill ride intent on digging to the core of its malevolent characters. That's not to say the violence is not gratuitous at all - it makes for fantastic entertainment, particularly on the big screen.

"Describe what Calvin Candie looks like!!"

Underneath all of its symphonic brutality, Django Unchained is not without its little quirks, cameos and of course movie references. Cheeky and clever nods to some of Quentin's favourites such as Taxi Driver [1976], The Good, The Bad & The Ugly [1966] and Seven Samurai [1954] don't go unnoticed and continue to remind us that this is the work of a guy who just loves movies. To support lively performances from leading actors who are obviously having a great time, there is a host of equally enigmatic cameos from Tarantino veteran Samuel L. Jackson (as pictured above), Australian John Jarratt and of course Quentin himself. Possessing an all-round slick and cheeky attitude, Django Unchained remembers why we go to the movies. We have fun with the characters, we follow the story with anticipatory excitement and most importantly, we are entertained and challenged. Hop on the high horse and take a ride with Django - you won't want to get off.

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Why? The Western gets the Tarantino Treatment
When: Now Showing (Wide National Release)
Where: Your local cinema
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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