Django Unchained is perhaps Quentin Tarantino’s most hard hitting film. Coming off the back of Inglourious Basterds, he decided to tackle the very sensitive subject of African American slavery in the southern states. This film sees the titular character, a slave, being freed and learning to live as a free man, a bounty hunter and a spirit of vengeance as he tracks the slavers who took his wife across the Deep South.
I doubt that there are many people out there who still need convincing to watch a new Tarantino flick. His name has long since become ingrained on the cinematic landscape as a mainstay of all things cool, cutting edge and violent as hell!
As I sat down last night to watch Django Unchained for the second time this year, I began thinking about why Tarantino’s violence has always been such a big deal in the media. After all there are many other films that contain horrendous acts that parallel Tarantino. I surmised that it is two things; firstly he earns his violent moments; the great depth he creates in his characters and awesome words they spew forth to express their sentiments, create stirring emotions in the viewer that mean any acts of aggression (particularly the vengeful ones) are in equal parts thrilling and extremely visceral. Secondly he knows how to shoot carnage like few directors do. When a bullet hits someone in the skull he knows exactly where to place the camera to maximise the horror, and he knows how to walk the line just right between over the top gore and empathy inducing moments of real pain to create a kind of heightened reality experience that…..ahem…..really packs a punch!
So what of this film in particular? For my money it’s a masterpiece. I know that I am often guilty of throwing around hyperbole like it’s going out of fashion, but in this case it is truly justified. Django Unchained somehow manages to mash up virtually every genre known to man whilst using hip hop music to score a story set in 1858 and still feels like an authentic western tale. It really shouldn’t work when you think about it.
What also shouldn’t work is that signature Tarantino dialogue. I’m always amazed that the majority of Tarantino characters speak with similar voices and yet totally contrast one another. They all have that sort of long winded, over explaining tone that reeks of intelligence and sarcasm and yet each character finds ways to take that tone and make it their own. I suppose a lot of that comes down to incredible casting. That’s the reason Dr King Shultz doesn’t sound like Vincent Vega and why Hans Landa doesn’t sound like Bill; there is always a master character actor at the helm ready to give these words a way to flow differently, which is why that slick, self-aware dialogue is able to work in a wild-west setting.
What Tarantino does better than he has ever done before is create tension. As Django (Jamie Foxx) and King Shultz (Christoph Waltz) try to con a plantation owner into releasing a slave, there is almost endless bum clenching suspense. There are awkward pauses, uneasy eyes and “silver tongued” exchanges aplenty as we wait to find out whether their plan has been successful or not.
“He scales the mountain, because he’s not afraid of it. He slays the dragon, because he’s not afraid of him. And he walks through hellfire… because Broomhilda’s worth it.”
There is also a great deal of comedy. One scene in particular involving a racist gang struggling to see through the white sheets on their head as they ride to attack Django and Shultz is easily the funniest thing Tarantino has ever written and is also one of the funniest scenes you will ever see full stop!
Along with the tension and the laughs comes a great deal of good old fashioned vengeance. This is one of those films where when punishment is dished out, it is done in a very satisfying way. I’ve always hated when villains get let off easy. After all a bullet to the head is an easy way to go. But Tarantino knows that the real bad guys need punishing, and in doing so puts us in the uneasy position of wanting to see more damage done to someone that already lies beaten and bloodied!
This is just a fantastic film. Yes it has an almost 3 hour running time, but don’t let that put you off (does that kind of thing really put people off?), whilst it doesn’t always fly by at break neck speed, it does provide unending brilliance in terms of character and story that will have you hooked from start to finish!