Django Unchained Review

There is a throwaway line in the movie How to Lose Friends and Alienate People where Simon Pegg’s character detracts another character that apparently thought that ‘cinema began with Tarantino’. This may be true to some moviegoers. Quentin Tarantino is an auteur who manages to open the eyes of many to the wonder of cinema, but cinema did not begin with him, nor will it end with him, but maybe Tarantino is cinema.

When one looks further into the foundations of any of Tarantino’s movies, one can find his films built on a true love of cinema that embraces every single one of his influences to create a magical blend of cinematic highlights with Tarantino’s own secret sauce. One very huge influence on Tarantino is that of the western genre. From the Mexican stand-offs of Reservoir Dogs, to Ennio Morricone featuring on the soundtrack of Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino has never been shy to embrace his love of the western. His latest effort, however, takes that love as far as possible. Just over 20 years since his feature film directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino has made a straight-up western, Django Unchained. Make no mistakes; this is definitely the QT movie to watch.

Affectionately dubbed a ‘southern’ throughout production, Django Unchained is set in the south of the USA two years before the American Civil War. Slavery is alive and kicking, but the events set forth in the film show that some slaves kick back, namely the titular Django, played by Jamie Foxx. A recently sold slave, Django comes across bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who takes Django under his wing after requiring his services for a bounty he wants to collect. The pair make a deal, where if Django helps Schultz, Schultz will help him track down and free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).

The duo continue a business partnership as bounty hunters, tracking and collecting bounties in the winter before they find themselves on Broomhilda’s tracks, locating he slave owner who currently possesses her, Calvin J. Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and striking up a plan to free Broomhilda from Candie, his house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and the rest of Candie’s men.

I shall throw the main aspect of the content some might disagree with: the language and the terminology used in the film. It can get quite heavy, and some might not be able to handle it. That being said, it is a very small detail that might throw some, but one should know that they’re going into a completely different movie from the norm when walking into a Tarantino movie.

That detail aside, the movie is amazing. Some of Tarantino’s best work can be seen in every aspect of the film: whether that be the beauty of some of the shots captured; the inspired soundtrack that evokes landmark films such as Battle Royale and Django (not to mention the use of Für Elise for the second time in a Tarantino movie); or the screenplay, which manages to have some of Tarantino’s funniest and most quotable dialogue while doing well to tell a distinct Spaghetti Western story.

One can’t completely rest their laurels on Tarantino, however. While his genius is spread throughout every aspect of the film, what really brings it alive is the characters, and Foxx, Waltz and DiCaprio all give amazing performances. Foxx does well to showcase the hero’s journey from slave to master of his craft, Waltz gives a deliciously articulate and wonderful performance that is up there with his previous Tarantino outing as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and Leonardio DiCaprio showcases a phenomenal performance that embodies the precipice of great acting, one that continues to make us wonder why he never wins any big awards.

Outside of those three, the film is full of stars, old and new. Tarantino aficionados will enjoy all the cameos that he has slipped in for you to discover, not only in regards to alumni from his flicks, but a few great nods to the genre as well. There is a particular set of characters that will offer an added layer of enjoyment from fans later on into the movie.

It doesn’t take much to determine that this is a brilliant love-letter to the genre. It evokes so many western tropes, and definitely leans towards the Spaghetti Western side of the spectrum, thanks to the wonderful soundtrack, uses of flashbacks and lashings of bullets and bloodshed. The western has been revived time and time again, but it was only a matter of time until Tarantino would do it, and he manages to do a better job than most efforts combined.

Django Unchained is an achingly beautiful movie. Adult and violent, with harsh caricatures of the harsh realities in the southern States before the Civil War, Django Unchained is unrelenting. It is very theatrical, with rich uses of colour and composition to paint beautiful cinematic art, with a pitch perfect soundtrack that hits every beat it needs to, pulling from many works influential to Tarantino, even if they aren’t necessarily relevant to the genre (then again, this is from the man who made Cat People work so well in Inglourious Basterds).

Jamie Foxx creates an iconic lead role, Christoph Waltz continues to be the shining star we are thankful for bringing to Hollywood, and Leonardo DiCaprio consistently proves how criminal it is that he still hasn’t received enough recognition for his acting talents.

With each new film he writes and directs, one would assume that Tarantino would eventually hit the glass ceiling, with no possible way of improving. Django Unchained proves that the auteur can skyrocket through that ceiling and continue to reach for the stars.

There is a line in Inglourious Basterds, “I think this just might be my masterpiece.” If that’s not true for that movie, and if Tarantino can go beyond his genius with Django Unchained, then Simon Pegg’s character in How to Lose Friends and Alienate People was right. Cinema didn’t begin with Tarantino, but he’ll definitely be the one who can perfect it.

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