Quentin Tarantino’s epic western Django Unchained is released to UK cinemas surrounded by drama. When its US premiere was delayed due to the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook, it became embroiled in the debate over film violence. However, when discussed away from the controversy, Django Unchanined reveals itself as another solid release from Tarantino, with a clever script, excellent performances and ambitious scale.
Set in 1858, the plot follows freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and bounty hunter Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) as they attempt to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from infamous plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo Di Caprio). The story moves along with plenty of typical Tarantino flourishes. Episodic subplots of Schulz and Django capturing bounties escalate rapidly into minor chapters in the film, creating that famous fragmented structure that all his films share. Though more subtle than, say, Pulp Fiction in this division, it is clear to see when one arc ends and another begins.
However, that is not to say that Tarantino’s latest work is a purely standard affair. Django Unchained is by far the most ambitious work that the director has produced. The wide and barren landscapes as well as the dozens of extras and numerous colourful settings are a far cry from the gritty warehouse of Reservoir Dogs or the urban streets of Jackie Brown. Although perhaps 30 minutes too long, on the whole, Tarantino deals well with this enlarged scale, managing to successfully combine dialogue-heavy set pieces with wide panning shots of beautiful scenery.
Django Unchained is certainly not for the light-hearted. It is a violent movie that deals in extremes, with Django and Schultz consistently expressing their right to murder. The various plantation owners confine their slave workers to horrific conditions, selling them for money and throwing them in gladiatorial-style death matches, often just for amusement.
Furthermore, extreme racial language is used throughout. This is no-holds-barred cinema, so those who are faint of heart are recommended to either brace themselves, or stay away.
Of course, as with all Tarantino’s work, the actor’s ability to bring his excellent script to life is vital. The whole ensemble work well, but none more so than Christoph Waltz. In Waltz, Tarantino has found his perfect voice, a man who knows just how to speak “Tarantino”. DiCaprio fares well too, portraying the nefarious Candie with a vile relish. Foxx and Washington also perform admirably, but the supporting cast steal the show here.
Tarantino is an extremely divisive filmmaker. While some label his work egotistical and offensive, others find it refreshing and entertaining. With Django Unchained the debate will rage on. Audience experience and opinion will differ wildly both on the controversy surrounding the film and on the filmmaker himself. What can be promised however, is an entertaining, provocative western that marks another strong entry to the already impressive Tarantino filmography.