Django Unchained

WRITTEN BY: Quentin Tarantino
DIRECTED BY: Quentin Tarantino
STARRING: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington
RATING: 4.5 stars
Who cares about the truth when you can have so much fun with fiction? Writer/director Quentin Tarantino returns with what could be his best film yet - a spaghetti western, comedy that rewrites the history of slavery in the United States. Django Unchained has everything fans have come to expect from Tarantio and more - blood, romance, revenge, shootings, more blood, action, foul language, including the "N" word ... did I mention there's lots of blood? Django Unchained is ridiculous fun and while some may be offended by how far he pushes the boundaries, Tarantino has been making films long enough for people to know if they are going to enjoy his work or not. If you're not a fan of his previous films, don't bother reading on.
Django Unchained pays homage to Sergio Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti western Django, starring Franco Nero, who also has a cameo in this film. The stylised opening credits of the period sets the tone for the rest of the film. Set in Texas, two years before the civil war, German dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buys the freedom of slave Django (Jamie Foxx) because he needs his help to identify his next bounty. The pair strike up a friendship and Django proves to be an asset to Schultz's work so he takes Django on as his deputy. He also agrees to help Django find his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was separately sold to someone else when they tried to escape their owner. Their journey leads them to a plantation owned by evil racist Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
I want to give all the leads in this film an Academy Award. It is one of the best ensemble casts in years. Waltz has formed a good working relationship with Tarantino since Inglorious Basterds, in which he won an Oscar. He gives another powerful performance in this film as an arrogant and clever humanitarian who happens to kill bad guys for money. It's the perfect contradiction that makes his character so complex and intriguing. Foxx in comparison has a more understated role. He is the lead, but his character does not show off as much as some of the others. Nonetheless, he gives a strong performance. How DiCaprio was overlooked for an Oscar nomination, I'll never understand. In his first real bad guy role, DiCaprio is disgusting, creepy, horrible and scary as a man who appears civil but enjoys watching slaves fight to the death and has no problem ordering dogs to rip apart another slave. Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson is almost unrecognisable as Candie's loyal slave. He's very funny and also puts an unexpected hurdle in Django's plans. Washington is the only one I thought weakened the cast. I know she's supposed to be a frightened and tortured slave, but did she have to cry every minute?
What works so well in this film is that at its heart is a very serious issue but it is dealt with in a funny way. One of the best scenes involves a group of regulators who argue over sheets they have to wear over their heads with cut-outs for their eyes. Jonah Hill has an entertaining small role in this scene too. There's also a completely random Australian link towards the end of the film, which I won't spoil, but which was perhaps a nod from Tarantino who is a fan of Australian cinema. The soundtrack is also impressive with some Ennio Morricone mixed in with some James Brown and Tupac Shakur.
If I had to say something negative about this film it is that it is perhaps just a little too long. Just when you think it is going to end, it goes on for another 20 minutes. But really, those 20 minutes are a lot of fun too.
There's no doubt that Django Unchained in a controversial film, but that's what we want from Tarantino, and wow, did he deliver it. While many Americans prefer to ignore their dark past, this film puts a spotlight on it in a brave and entertaining way, just as long as people don't think they are getting an accurate history lesson.