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Django Unchained - DVD Review

Django Unchained

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

QUENTIN Tarantino’s Django Unchained has, in true spaghetti western form, elements that are good, bad and ugly.

The good is often really good and places the film on a par with the director’s very best work, the bad relates to the film’s self indulgence and the ugly comes in the form of the violence, which is often unpleasant and extreme.

Considered as a whole, the film offers an enjoyable ride if you can stomach some of its excesses.

When initially conceived, Django Unchained began life as a straight forward spaghetti western homage that derived a lot of its style from the likes of Sergio Leone and, more especially, Sergio Corbucci (of original Django fame).

But over the course of Tarantino’s research it also became a brutal expose of just how extreme slavery was.

The story, though, owes as much to Kill Bill as anything else, emerging as another tale of revenge that’s served blood red and dead cold.

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave who has been separated from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), but who is plucked from a life of servitude by a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to help him find and kill a trio of outlaw brothers.

Django proves such a useful ally, however, that King makes him a partner and agrees to help him find and rescue Broomhilda from ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The two men subsequently hatch an elaborate plan designed to deceive Candy into parting ways with Broomhilda.

The ensuing film plays out in epic form and is as verbose in places as you’d expect from Tarantino and every bit as revisionist, historically, as his last film, Inglourious Basterds.

And yet for all its lengthy exchanges between characters, Django himself remains something of an enigma (presumably in a nod to the strong, silent Eastwood type) with the more showier roles going to Waltz and DiCaprio. It’s one of several shortcomings.

Quite often the film seems to become a little caught up in its own wordiness, slowing right down once it arrives on Candie’s plantation (Candie-Land) and also seeming content to let certain actors showboat.

Samuel L Jackson’s head slave, Stephen, for instance, is a genuinely vile creation but at his most effective when being quietly persuasive or threatening. Tarantino, however, can’t help but indulge the actor’s penchant for verbal fireworks and affords him several moments to hit the tempos of his Pulp Fiction persona.

Such moments hint at a lack of self discipline on Tarantino’s part, however, and extend to giving himself a cameo for a late scene that arguably shouldn’t even have existed (as fun as it plays out).

Another failing is the film’s slavish addiction to violence, which is sometimes difficult to stomach and which makes Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch look positively tame by comparison. Tarantino may well argue that scenes involving the abuse of slaves (from whippings to death by hammer blow) serve to underline the horror of what really took place (and worse) but while effective in doing so, his desire to offer up buckets of blood even during the gunfights (in which bodies frequently explode) cheapens it too. Again, Tarantino seems to want to have his cake and eat it.

That he almost gets away with it is evidence that there’s still so much to recommend in Django that demands repeat viewing.

The central partnership between Waltz and Foxx is great, DiCaprio provides a terrific villain (a horrific faux European socialite), Don Johnson contributes a memorable segment as another plantation owner, Big Daddy, whose attempts to form a lynch mob err towards the Mel Brooks slapstick of Blazing Saddles, and there are show-stopping contributions from the likes of Walton Goggins, James Remar and the original Django himself, Franco Nero.

As violent as the film is, Tarantino also knows how to deliver a rousing set piece (and there are several that are really cool), while his soundtrack (which mixes Morricone with rap) is first class.

Overall, then, Django Unchained succeeds as another Tarantino romp – not quite a classic but a film with classic moments that’s brimming with the director’s trademark excess.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 165mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: May 20, 2013