Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino
Leonardo di Caprio
Samuel L. Jackson
Runtime: 165 mins.
Australian release date: 24 January 2013
It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino loves a Spaghetti Western and this is certainly borne out in his latest film, Django Unchained, a ‘spectacular spectacle’ of blood and guts that even has the first Django, Franco Nero, in a cameo role. In true Tarantino form and in homage to Sergio Corbucci’s eponymous 1966 film, Nero says to the current Django (Jamie Foxx), ‘Hey boy, how do you spell your name?’
It’s 1858 in Texas, and Django is being transported with other slaves when he is rescued by Dr King Schultz (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz), a ‘dentist’ who steers a coach with a wobbly denture fixed to the roof. Schultz is a bounty hunter who offers to help Django find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) in return for Django identifying the Brittle brothers, three outlaws on Schulz’s shopping list. As it happens, Broomhilda was branded and sold by the Brittle Brothers, so Django is only too happy to help. A plan is hatched between the two men when they track the woman down to Candie Land, a plantation controlled by a notorious slave owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo de Caprio - in one of his best performances). Candie is a murderer who gets pleasure from seeing ‘his’ slaves fighting to the death.
It’s a testament to Tarantino’s skill as a writer/director that he is able to use the B-movie tropes of the genre Western to deal with such controversial subject matter as slavery. He’s able to do this by showing not only the physical but also the mental violence of slavery. In an interview with the Observer newspaper he claimed that Corbucci’s films were the most surreal, violent and brutal of all the Spaghetti Westerns. In choosing to emulate his work, he stated that, “when you learn of the rules and practices of slavery, it was as violent as anything I could do - and absurd and bizarre. You can’t believe it is happening which is the true nature of surrealism”. Somehow this makes the violence digestible even though the gun battles are numerous and the blood squibs oversized.
Despite its subject matter, there’s a lot to like about this film (if you’re not squeamish!) and it’s a joy to watch Foxx, Waltz and Di Caprio at their best. Robert Richardson's cinematography does much to capture the Spaghetti Western look and the soundtrack is equally atmospheric. It is fun to see, too, Tarantino appearing as a slave transporter, and an Aussie one no less, along with John Jarratt.
Django Unchained has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay (Tarantino) and Best Supporting Actor (Waltz) but not Best Director in the up-coming Academy Awards. It will be interesting to see how this challenging material and its B-movie treatment fares. One can’t help suspecting that the venerable members of the Academy will treat Steven Spielberg’s anti-slavery film Lincoln better than this one.