Django Unchained

Django Unchained ★★★★★

"I spent my whole life here right here in Candyland, surrounded by black faces. And seeing them every day, day in day out, I only had one question. Why don't they kill us?" - Monsieur Calvin J. Candie

While it might not be Quentin Tarantino's true masterpiece, Django Unchained provides some of Tarantino's greatest works. While Inglorious Basterds was an intimidating ensemble where there were no true lead characters, Django provides five key players that all have their moment to shine (because "the sun is up").

First and foremost, we have Jamie Foxx as the titular emancipated slave with vengeance on his mind and chains off his wrists. Tarantino unfortunately does not write him as well as the film's formidable reputation would suggest, but Foxx makes sure he treads the line between natural born killer and the archetypal 'strong-silent'-type. In the climactic epilogue, Foxx blossoms into a fine performance that you wish you'd seen more of.

This is largely because of the rest of the supporting players chewing up the screen around him. Christoph Waltz is reliably brilliant as the loveable Dr King Schultz, reading Tarantino's wonderfully verbose dialogue like it's classic poetry. His Germanic tones are proof that Tarantino and Waltz understand each other, as writing the role with Waltz in mind clearly lent to the precise delivery of each line. Like an experienced impresario looking to amaze people with his extended vocabulary, Waltz is a delight.

Leonardo DiCaprio takes on a transformative role as the beastly Calvin Candie, making this year's Jordan Belfort look like a pussycat. Casually despicable and never reverting to stereotypical cartoon villainy, he nonetheless is a wonderful caricature of a man believing that he is beyond his own intellect. As he smoothly states, there is no one who appreciates the value of showmanship more than himself.

Kerry Washington suffers from the same problem as Foxx, as her cherubic Broomhilda is favoured less so than Tarantino's two verbose figureheads. Nevertheless, Washington performs fantastically with her material, playing the victim to a controlled and tasteful level.

Last but certainly not least is the sucker-punch performance of Samuel L Jackson as the purely evil head house slave, Stephen. Spite pours from every single one of his faculties: his eyes are yellowed and bulbous, his mouth in a constant grimace and his nostrils flared like an angered bull. Surpassing DiCaprio in the "Boo! Hiss!" territory, Jackson pulls off a late-career magic trick in what is probably his best performance since his iconic turn in Pulp Fiction.

All five performances are bolstered by a range of colourful cameos from TV stars and cult-favourite actors: a bold move for Tarantino who likes to chop and change through his collection of colourful creations. True, this film shows him slipping back towards the self-indulgence of Death Proof and Kill Bill Vol. 2, but <?Django Unchained earns its ability to navel-gaze and self-promote by being so damn charismatic. Please return to the western, Quentin: it needs you...

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