Everyone has their favourites. Whether it’s their favourite actor, director or brand of cereal. Life’s eclectic like that. Me? Well, I’d struggle to pick out a single actor; I’ve got way too many favourites. Cereal? Well, I’m not really a cereal fan, but I’d go with something containing almonds and is crunchy enough to break at least five teeth per serving. As for director? Well, that’s quite easy: Quentin Tarantino. The guy has had his hand in some of my all time favourite movies and has also propelled certain actors into the ranks of my favourites too, owing to his screenplays. So when a new Tarantino movie rolls into town, I sit up and take notice, as they nearly always guarantee a slice of cinematic gold. Can Django Unchained continue the trend?
Before I get down to brass tacks, let’s discuss the premise of this particular movie… as if you don’t already know! The film follows the life of the titular Django (Jamie Foxx) – a slave who is liberated by a dentist-come-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), in order to track down three targets. But what does Django want to do when the task is accomplished? Well, he wants to go off and find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) – a fellow slave of the pre-Civil War United States. It just happens to be that Broomhilda is the property of a Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio): owner of the appropriately named Candie-Land plantation. Can the dynamic duo rescue her from his clutches? Or will Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) the loyal house slave, figure out their game?
Quite simply, Django Unchained is a formidable work of cinema. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I loved every last moment of it. It had the perfect storm of great plot and fantastic casting, complete with Tarantino‘s brilliant scripting flourishes. So let’s kick off with the acting skills on show here. Much was made of the casting of Django himself, with Will Smith apparently in the running for the part in the early days. This made a lot of people sit up and take notice; owing to Smith‘s established fan base and ability to make massive returns at the box office. But for whatever reason, he never tried out for the part. This led to the hiring of Jamie Foxx for the role. Whilst Foxx isn’t the brightest star in the film, he fits the role perfectly. He’s just “right” for the part – he’s a fit, both physically and vocally. For me, his portrayal of Django was spot on. But as I say, he’s not the eclipsing star here. That accolade in fact belongs to three supporting actors: Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. Waltz is bankable. He was sublime in Inglorious Basterds and put on a great show in Carnage. He’s a talent to be reckoned with. Whilst I found the role of King Schultz to be compelling, I never felt the same “wow” as I did with Inglorious Basterds‘ Hans Lander. Still, you can’t fault his performance here.
I think I was most impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio, though I’m not surprised. For too long this guy was seen as a flash in the pan – only famous because of Titanic and how much the ladies loved him. But nothing could be further from the truth. He’s shown us countless times how he can step up to any role, so it was great to see him as a detestable character. Candie is sinister, intelligent and at the same time, incredibly naive. DiCaprio pulls it all off with aplomb. Finally, it’s brilliant to see Samuel L. Jackson in another defining role. As I’ve mentioned previously, it seems the guy picks films out of a hat, as opposed to scrutinising a script, as some of his films have been less than palatable. But Tarantino again brings the best out of Jackson. Just like Joss Whedon has his favourite rotating cast, I’m glad that Tarantino has the same. It’s familiar, but it’s always different… if you understand me.
Plot / script-wise… it’s Tarantino. Come on – you know what you’re getting here. Ultra-violence, a heap of beautifully crafted dialogue and some great music choices. Some have derided the choice to include Rick Ross‘ 1000 Black Coffins (a modern hip hop song) in the middle of a film smattered with oldie-worldie sounding tunes. But it works! Come on, you can’t say you weren’t surprised to hear “Stuck in the Middle With You” during Reservoir Dogs can you? It was a massive juxtaposition – a guy’s ear being cut off with a cut throat razor with such a jolly song over the top. The same is true here, I’d argue.
The one thing that is definitely very “un-Tarantino” is the fact that he opts for a chronological story. We’re all well accustomed to his flair for Chapters in his films – ones that switch back and forth in time. They’re oddly absent here – something that must have been a deliberate choice on his behalf, of that I’m certain.
Oh, and anyone spot the massive tie in to the rest of the Tarantino universe? You know – where he makes a nod to a certain character / event in another of his films? No? Yes? It’s three points for a correct answer… OK, here’s a clue: King Schultz. Now go back and watch Kill Bill Vol. 2 with that in mind. All should become apparent.
Now, my verdict was never going to be an obvious choice based solely on the fact that Tarantino is the man writing the script, but it certainly raises expectations. Expectations can either be met, exceeded or never met. But Django Unchained never wanes and never bores over its lengthy run time. If anything, I’d have loved more time with those characters in their world. As I say, it’ll have its detractors, but what film doesn’t?
Thankfully, the Tarantino brand is still a mark of quality. Django Unchained is one of the best movies he’s ever put his name to. I’m not going to declare it “the” best, because his catalogue is too strong and it’s ultimately like picking between your favourite children… But we all do have a favourite don’t we? Cute little P. Fiction is mine…