Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington and Samuel L Jackson
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
If you enjoy watching buckets of fake blood exploding all over the place, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is just the film for you. A good portion of this two-hour-and-46-minute spaghetti western meets slave’s revenge story is graphic fighting scenes, random shoot-outs and gratuitous gore. The film starts off with bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Waltz) freeing a slave named Django (Foxx) in mid-19th century America. Dr Schultz, who masquerades as a dentist, needs Django’s help in identifying the men he is trying to kill or capture. The pair soon team up, picking up wanted men and selling their corpses for cash.
It is then revealed that Django wants to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Washington), a slave on a plantation estate owned by one Calvin Candie, played with relish by DiCaprio. Candie is the charming but ruthless fop who amuses himself with ‘mandingo fighting’, a gruesome sport in which two slaves attack each other gladiator-style until one dies. His plantation, incidentally, is named Candyland.
The first half of this film has good momentum. It is vivid and funny, especially a scene where a gang of Ku Klux Klan pause on their horses at night to have a lengthy discussion on how they can’t see properly out of the eyeholes on their white hoods. The problem with this film is that it takes a while to get to the point, and when it finally does, you have stopped caring.
There is a lot of unnecessary violence in Django Unchained, including but not limited to whipping, execution, wrestling and beating — but as we know, that is Tarantino’s thing. Judging by rave critic reviews and its five Oscar nominations, this film isn’t overtly offensive to the average viewer but it does take an oddly cavalier approach to the serious issues of race and slavery. For example, Stephen (Jackson), a trusted servant of Candie, drops the N-word left, right and centre. It is vaguely uncomfortable, even though you know the whole black-slaves-owned-by-a-white-man theme is tongue-in-cheek.
There is no subtext at all to this film. It has a thin, simple and debatably silly plot. However, when deconstructed, Django Unchained actually has some good qualities. The acting is top-notch, especially the immensely charismatic Waltz who won a Golden Globe Award for his performance. The cinematography is vivid and there is a lot of action — maybe even too much given the bloody apocalypse Tarantino eventually unleashes. The director even has a cameo in this film, showing up as a redneck with an odd Australian accent. Why? We’ll never know. It is only when you take the sum of all its parts that Django Unchained falls far short of being a masterpiece. But this isn’t a bad film. It is just not for everyone.