Much has been said about the running time, violence and Jamie Foxx's lead in Quentin Tarantino's epic 'southern' western Django Unchained. Let's just get a few things clear from the very start - at 165 minutes, Django is a long film but it doesn't feel like it, the violence is completely fine, and Jamie Foxx plays it perfect. From start to finish, Django Unchained is pure, unadulterated fun. It's a joy to watch, you'll want to whoop with delight, and it's Tarantino's finest piece of work to date.
Django is many things; a revenge flick, a romance, a bromance/road trip, a western and it's also bloody funny. There are laugh out loud moments you wouldn't necessarily expect from a movie about slavery, but this is Tarantino after all. A scene where the Ku Klux Klan gather and pettily argue over their masks is reminiscent of the 'Mr Brown, Mr Shit' argument in Reservoir Dogs, and Django's choice of clothes as a free man/valet are hysterical. Tarantino revels in his filmmaking throughout Django, with his audience firmly in mind; this may seem an odd thing to say, but he's here to entertain us - he knows that - and he'll make his characters larger than life, splash viscera for our delight, and indulge us in a sweeping, epic story about a slave turned bounty hunter who wants to be reunited with his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), and takes his revenge on all of those who have treated his fellow slaves and his wife badly. There are good people, and there are bad people in Django, it's as simple as that. Good prevails and the baddies get what's coming to them. And if that doesn't have you on your feet by the end of the movie yelling for Django, nothing will.
The film has an impeccable structure; Django is first rescued from slavery by Christoph Waltz's bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Schultz is hunting down a trio of ruthless killers - the Brittle brothers - and needs Django's help to find them as he knows what they look like. They start a southern road trip across plantations and picturesque mountain ranges to track the brothers down. Once their mission is accomplished, Schultz returns the favour for Django and agrees to help him find his wife who has been sold to the Candyland plantation in Mississippi. Django and Schultz's building friendship and mutual respect is endearing to see develop, and Schultz's nuturing father figure to Django is often quite an emotional watch. Waltz's dialogue is incredible; this is very much his film - and Samuel L Jackson's, but more on him later - and his words roll off the tongue. He makes wonderful viewing.
More rich scenes await us at Candyland, run by stroppy, spoilt man child Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) who has a penchant for 'mandingo fighting'. There is absolute precision in calling the plantation Candyland - we are meant to think of fairgrounds and sweet sugary childlike fun for a reason. DiCaprio, as with all actors in Django, excels himself; he has an absolute riot with Calvin. He's outwardly charming but ruthless - he'll wine and dine you, but feels nothing at having a slave torn to shreds by a pack of dogs. Schultz and Django's elaborate plot to get Broomhilda back sees them acting as mandingo fight promoters, and they want to buy one of Calvin's prized fighters at a high cost. This gets them onto the Candyland plantation, but they do not expect to meet such a foe as Samuel L. Jackson's Stephen; a savvy, elderly senior house slave who has Calvin's ear and back. Stephen is the most abhorrent character in Django Unchained, sucking up to his owner whilst thinking nothing of taking down the other slaves around him. He instantly sees a connection between Django and Broomhilda, working out exactly why Schultz and Django are there. This leads to one of the most tense dinner table scenes in cinematic history, similar to Michael Fassbender's downfall in the basement in Inglourious Basterds, and the bloodiest shootout. Bodies EXPLODE with bullets, and you can feel the bones - and shins - flying everywhere. Some critics say Tarantino should have finished it there, but we disagree - what comes next is the ultimate revenge. Django comes back to finish what was started, and takes no prisoners. And the character that deserves the most of his wrath is left right until the end.
Onto Foxx's Django. Many have said he's not strong enough as the lead, and his dialogue/presentation is poor. On the contrary, his understated performance is ABSOLUTELY key to his character. Django starts as a humble man, who 'knows his place'. He has no idea about bounty hunting or the communication/opportunities that Schultz opens up to him. We're on a learning curve with Django. He becomes a heroic force of nature; it's always been inside him, but the circumstances that he is now exposed to allow him to rise up and take that revenge. He takes everything in - the slave being torn apart by dogs is a key scene. By the end of the film, he has graduated with honours into a full-blown ACTION HERO. We could liken his enigmatic nature and revenge to The Driver in Drive - he doesn't need all of the lines, but what he does say and what he delivers are INCREDIBLE. A cinematic icon is born.
Top marks too for the splendid horse dancing at the end.
5/5 tobacco spits