Film review: Django Unchained (15)


Django Unchained
(15) 136mins

Quentin Tarantino is best to his swaggering, infuriating and brilliant best with this audacious take on America's slave past.

Little wonder director Quentin Tarantino squirmed under scrutiny over movie violence.

In attempting to hold the high ground he had seized by claiming credit for dragging America's slave-owning past into the public arena he then painted himself into a corner.

He tried to insert simplistic gradations between "cathartic violence" and "entertaining violence" which can only translate as "violence that hurts baddies - necessary" and "violence that hurts goodies - worthy".

His revisionist Western (set in the South) contains much of both flavours and whether it's slaves set on by dogs or slave-masters castrated by shot, the result is just the same and usually found on walls and in puddles.

His needless justifications attempt to elevate a gore-fest beyond its very simple roots as a revenge movie.

In many ways, this is a companion piece to Inglourious Basterds. In both, the traditional opponents are redrawn and replaced with a new paradigm.

In the war-time sprawl, the Germans were defeated by the Jews. In the over-long but audacious Django Unchained, the plantation owners are done for by a former slave.

The director's impatience with the argument is understandable. If you're going to see a Quentin Tarantino movie, you know what's coming.

Lavish, unfurling scenes in which razor sharp characters have time to present their philosophies before unleashing hell on their foes.

It's all done with a swagger, lashings of scorn, a respectful tilt at genre, a painful self indulgence and a brazen disdain for queasiness.

Dr King Schultz, as played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz, is, therefore, the perfect QT character. The German bounty hunter has a gift of the gab as well as a dead-eye with a gun.

When he buys slave Django (the underpowered but charismatic Jamie Foxx) to help him track down his next bounty he finds a protege and a purpose.

For Django's slave wife (Kerry Washington) is named after a character in a German myth, a princess atop a hill for whom an adventurer must go through hellfire to rescue.

And so the quest to free Broomhilda is set and brings, by circuitous routes (there are lots of circuitous routes) the charming doctor and his taciturn sidekick to the plantation of ruthless boy king Calvin Candie (another star turn by Leonardo DiCaprio).

But the ruse that brings them to the bargaining table comes under scrutiny by repulsive house slave Stephen (rubberised Samuel L Jackson) - and their treachery will not go unchallenged.

Yet again, Tarantino has mined his love of cinema to create a brilliant, infuriating and rewarding event.