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Django review - bradshaw
When I first saw Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, I wrote that it was as deplorable and delicious as a forbidden cigarette. This second time around I'm still dizzy, from something meaner than nicotine. This brilliant and brutal revenge western, with its bromcom double act from Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz, is set among the slave plantations of pre-civil war America. It is partly based on the 1960s cult Django westerns starring Franco Nero (who returns in cameo here) and partly on the notorious 1975 exploitation picture Mandingo, but it's distinctive on its own fantastically outrageous terms: an audacious and horribly funny comic-book nightmare.
Production year: 2012
Cert (UK): 15.. Released: 19 Jan 2013
Runtime: 136 mins
Directors: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Bruce Dern, Christoph Waltz, Don Johnson, James Russo, Jamie Foxx, Jonah Hill, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Kerry Washington, Kurt Russell, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Carradine, Samuel L Jackson, Zoe Bell
More on this film
Tarantino, king of the comeback, famously returned John Travolta to the pop-culture frontline for Pulp Fiction and indeed renewed crime writer Eddie Bunker's pulp-fiction stardom by getting him an acting gig as Mr Blue in Reservoir Dogs. Now Tarantino has made his own comeback, after a recent worrying slump, with his best film since Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
It's certainly an awful lot better than the previous film Inglourious Basterds, which I attacked on account of its misfiring spaghetti-Nazi theme and bafflingly dull plot. I should here record that many did not agree with this view, and my previous lavish praise for the great man only seemed to make things worse. Someone online called me a "petulant Taranteenybopper" throwing a strop. Well, possibly. For me, Tarantino had always been the master of a certain type of narcotic euphoria in the cinema, something exquisitely superfluous, something to do with his mastery of surface and style – an ability to make you believe in it and see through it at the same time. That ability has gloriously returned.
In an excerpt from the Guardian Film Show Peter Bradshaw, Xan Brooks and Henry Barnes review Django Unchained Link to video: Django Unchained
Foxx plays Django, a slave in 1858, who on being transported through Texas in the bitter winter cold, has a fateful encounter with the extraordinary Dr King Schultz, a mysterious German former dentist played by Christoph Waltz with dapper and dainty eccentricity and smilingly faultless English. Django's new friend gives him a taste of freedom, but is astonished to learn of his connection with a fellow slave, a beautiful woman named Broomhilda (Kerry Washington); it is a mis-hearing of the name "Brünnhilde" given by her German masters. She is being held at the plantation Candieland in Mississippi, owned by the revolting racist and sadist Calvin Candie, unforgettably played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Somehow, and with Schultz's help, Django must get her out. His soul will never be unchained until he sets his love free and takes a terrible revenge on her oppressor.
DiCaprio's Candie is hideously self-possessed with Southern politesse and a crocodile grin revealing bad teeth – which, given Dr Schultz's abandoned vocation, may have been intended by Tarantino as a subliminal ill omen. He has a kind of ruined charisma, a shabby youth running to the seed of early middle age. And he is easily outdone in terms of presence by Foxx's Django, who after a bizarre experiment with a sub-Pierrot servant costume, carries off the cowboy style with an incomparable swagger.
Good as they are, Foxx, DiCaprio, Waltz and Washington are utterly upstaged by Samuel L Jackson, who gives an extraordinary performance as Stephen, Candie's household attendant, an Uncle Tom figure utterly and aggressively loyal to the white master, with a deathly stare, a disturbing, Parkinson's-type tremor and a habit of dropping the N-bomb more aggressively than anyone else (and heaven knows everyone is dropping it pretty aggressively). With muscular tactlessness, Tarantino has taken the stereotype and turned it up to 11: Stephen is a Pétain in the below-stairs Vichyite regime propping up the rulers' loathsome racism. Django himself, in posing as a "Mandingo" trader of slaves trained to fight, is sickened by his own pretence as a collaborator.
Tarantino shoves everything like this under your nose. Only he and Jackson could possibly have got away with that Stephen character: it is genuinely gasp-inducing. Slavery is a subject on which modern Hollywood is traditionally nervous, a reticence amounting almost to a conspiracy of silence – except, of course, in the explicit context of abolition. As far as Hollywood is concerned, the day-to-day existence of unabolished slavery has been what welfare reformists called the live rail: don't touch it. It takes a film unencumbered with liberal good taste to try. Lars von Trier's Manderlay was one, and here is another.
Perhaps the most significant moments are when Django is trained by Schultz as a gunfighter. From any distance, on any occasion, Django can shoot with ruthless accuracy and verve, and afterwards permits himself a grin of pleasure. Is that a metaphor for Tarantino's own shooting? All I can say is that I matched the hero's smile with one of my own.