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Film Editorial

django-unchained.jpg Django Unchained

Tarantino's last picture ‘Inglourious Basterds’ was a frustrating mix of the inspired (sequences with Christoph Waltz’s Jew Hunter and Michael Fassbender’s British Lieutenant agent) and the self-congratulatory larky (the bits with Brad Pitt and the eponymous Basterds). ‘Django Unchained’ uses many of the same ingredients (Spaghetti Western references, revenge theme, lengthy Mexican stand-offs, Waltz as a German bounty hunter etc) but with far more entertaining and coherent results. Foxx is the titular slave, who is freed by German bounty hunter King Schultz (Waltz) in order to lead Schultz to his latest quarry. The duo end up travelling together and when Django tells Schultz of his lost love, the German-speaking slave Brunnhilde (Washington), Schultz stirred by the name from German folklore, resolves to help Django recover her. Their quest takes them to Candyland, a slave plantation owned by the ruthless Calvin Candie (DiCaprio). As expected the film is awash with references to other pictures (the most obvious reference points being notorious 70s exploitation picture 'Mandingo' and the Django series obv) while photographer Robert Richards beautifully evokes the Spaghetti Western genre, replete with sudden zooms, his images accompanied by a choice musical selections from the Tarantino archive. But while the director’s recent work felt sealed in a pop-referencing bubble, this, save for the occasional longueur, is genuinely exciting and stirring, with the actors, with maybe the exception of a slightly passive Foxx, at the top of their game. DiCaprio is all stained teeth and Mephistophelean Southern gentility as Candie, and Waltz is avuncular and charming (there’s a lovely gag in which uncomprehending rednecks tell the verbose and eloquent Schultz to ‘Speak English’). Lovely cameos too from Don Johnson as slave owner Big Daddy, and the original Django himself, Franco Nero, who pops up and utters lines so cursory that they must be a send-up of cursory cameos. Best of all though is Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, Candyland’s malevolent Uncle Tom, a grotesque but extraordinary creation. Questions have already been raised (most notably by Spike Lee) regarding Tarantino’s suitability in tackling this subject matter, but Tarantino’s depiction of slavery is never less than horrifying, and the director, at least, allows his black characters their own agency, unlike Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ in which all the African Americans are an amorphous group of passive, stoic forbearance. There are faults: a slapstick scene with the Klu Klux Klan is a little too broad and the film could have done with a bit of a trimming, particularly in the third act, but this is Tarantino back on smart, involving and endlessly inventive form, and this is his best film in almost two decades.