Django Unchained (18)

Quentin Tarantino is one of my favourite directors for many reasons; his sense of timing, his ability to create and then quickly dissipate tension, and his uncompromising violence. But ultimately it all comes down to one thing… his sense of justice.

The villains always get what is coming to them, and not in a simplistic and obvious way. They always meet their end in the most poetic way.

From the trailers you could tell that this was Tarantino on form yet again. Not forgetting the inclusion of the chilling Christoph Waltz. In Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds the suave, silver-tongued SS Colonel Hans Landa scared the bejesus out of me. Waltz has the ability to be absolutely terrifying whilst smiling like a Cheshire cat.

Set in the South two years before the Civil War, Django Unchained stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).

Shultz frees Django on the pretence that he helps him track down three vicious criminals with prices on their heads. Django in turn is helped in his search for his lost wife and fellow slave, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Schultz finds a role that appeals to his romantic German soul in reuniting the married couple.

Now Django is off the chain and out for vengeance. The ‘D’ may be silent, but his revenge won’t be.
In a wholly unpatronising way Schultz gives Django a sense of his own independence, channelling his anger against his exploiters but without tempering it with mercy. The former slave learns practical matters such as handling guns and reading, and more complicated ones such as role-playing and biding his time.

The journey takes them ultimately to the world of Calvin Candie (Leonard DiCaprio), the charming Mississippi aristocrat and committed racial supremacist. His vicious plantation Candyland has become a symbol for the oppression, theft of identity, false assertion of enduring superiority and the corruption of the human spirit that lies behind slavery.

Exploring the compound under false pretences, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave, and so begins a game of deception and revenge.
Tarantino’s fascination with language comes to the fore in the terrifying verbal conflict between DiCaprio, the babbling villain, and Schultz, the eloquent democrat. They provide the prelude to the movie’s violent climax.

Teaching in the form of the experienced passing on their knowledge has always been a major theme of the western. Django Unchained is the story of Schultz freeing Django and transforming him into an individual person, Django Freeman.

It’s also about how the cynical Schultz, who affects to believe that bringing in criminals dead or alive as a bounty hunter is “a flesh for cash business” much like slave-trading, gets in touch with his own innate decency.

Django Unchained is a long and powerful film, its dramatic brushstrokes broad and colourful. This isn’t Tarantino’s first western, but that doesn’t stop it being a brilliant revival of the genre. Waltz’s wit and composure lend a lightness of tone to an incandescently angry film.

By Ruth Walker

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