Review: Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012)

January 22, 2013 8:00 pm

Whilst it something of a cliche for reviewers to brand any new release from the enfant terrible of cinema, Quentin Tarantino, as signalling a ‘return to form’ for the director; it is so difficult to separate such a critical conceit from Django Unchained.

Django UnchainedIf Pulp Fiction (1994) represents the height of Tarantino’s creative output, Django is the closest film yet to posit itself as a contender for the filmic crown now cherished for almost two decades by the likes of Vincent Vega and Mia Wallace. The Jamie Foxx starring Western (read Southern) even tops the colossal 2009 effort Inglourious Basterds, a film which this reviewer is particularly fond of.

We are introduced to Foxx, playing the titular Django ‘Freeman’ (a slave), in the dead of night in the midst of a classical Western ‘showdown’ between Django’s owners and his new-found saviour Dr. Schultz (a mesmerising Christoph Waltz). After some gun-toting, quick fire conflict-resolution Django is ‘unchained’; set free to take revenge on the cold and brutal America which had enslaved him. From here our protagonist’s goal is relatively straight-forward, and stays true to the Tarantino trope of Kill Bill: Vol 1 & 2, Death Proof and Inglorious Basterds: its all about revenge.

Separated from his wife after being forced into slavery, Django makes it his mission to be reunited with his love, Broomhilda and will stop at nothing to make this happen. There is a brutality and an honesty in the situation, making its narrative even more immediate in the light of America’s own history, but not in the same way that Basterds decided to take such a radical departure from the conventional accounts of WWII.

Of course, this is Tarantino. There is violence… a lot of it. Moreover, like his filmography to date, Tarantino doesn’t shy away from demonstrating his encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema with a slew of nods and visual references to the Western genre he is working in, including a cameo from the ‘original’ Django.

But, dare I say it, there is also an evident sense of progression or even maturity present in his directorial style. No longer indulging in the non-linear storytelling of his debut Reservoir Dogs or the episodic structure of Basterds, Django follows a strangely unfamiliar mode of narration and editing for a Tarantino picture. Straight-forward, clean cut and well-rounded, the film, despite being nearly three-hours long, leaves you craving more of the world crafted by Tarantino et al.

Django Unchained

All performances on display are phenomenal and, I will add, Oscar worthy. Di Caprio in my opinion may have given the performance of his career, Waltz simply continues his winning formula from his last Tarantino venture whilst director favourite Samuel L. Jackson is similarly praiseworthy. The film also has an incredible amount of comedy (which would seem at odds with its subject matter) that could arguably be Tarantino’s best in this regard. A particular scene in which the organisational skills of a group of Klansmen is put under some scrutiny is of particular note and features an on form Jonah Hill.

Django Unchained, above all, is a film that will reignite your existing love of Tarantino or perhaps spark up a new romance with those of you unfamiliar (shock/horror) with his work.

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