Verdict: 3.5 stars out of five. The revenge fantasy never seems to get old for Quentin Tarantino, but he finds new and original ways to work out what must be a truckload of anger issues. Unstinting on the bloodshed as ever, Django Unchained is a powerful tale with a more tender core this time: a moving love story. QT gets a bit too self-indulgent somewhere in the middle, allowing the narrative to sag. But it is a Tarantino movie after all, and this revisionist Western brings it all to a bloody climax.
He’s told it from the perspective of a vengeful bride (Kill Bill: Vol I and II) and a vengeful teen (Inglourious Basterds). This time, Tarantino tells the tale of retribution from the point of view of a vengeful slave: Django (Jamie Foxx), a man in search of justice, freedom and most of all, his wife.
Set in the deepest South, circa 1850s America, in a time when slavery is a well-established institution, this is the story of Django, a slave unjustly separated from his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Freed by his mentor Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), Django then sets off on a quest to free Broomhilda from sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo Dicaprio). Cue a gloriously violent journey to the house of Candie, where a reckoning awaits.
No matter if you are a fan of QT or no, his characters are, if nothing else, deeply colourful. Only Tarantino could create a character like King Schultz, a dentist and bounty hunter (!), who drives a carriage adorned with – get this – a giant molar on top. Schultz is essentially a genial Hans Landa (his evil Nazi character from Inglourious Basterds), except that he is on the side of the angels this time. He’s also the perfect mentor, teaching Django to shoot, read, make his way in the world and live like a man. “I kill people and sell their corpses for cash,” he cheerfully announces. Awww.
As for Foxx, he smoulders with righteous fury and impassioned longing. At last year’s Comic Con, he had said that he drew upon painful childhood memories of racism to play Django, and it shows in his eyes. Alternately simmering with rage, pain, sorrow and a fierce dignity, Foxx embodies the character of a man who just wants to be with his wife, to the hilt.
The performances are excellent all-round. Dicaprio is his usual trying-too-hard self, though there is a wonderful chill in the air every time Django and Candie face off. Samuel L Jackson, who seems legally obliged to be in every movie Tarantino makes, is both chilling and fawning as head slave Steven. Kerry Washington is suitably vulnerable and achingly beautiful as the object of desire, though she has little else to do besides act the damsel in distress and be brutally assaulted. And let’s not forget the slick and smooth Big Daddy as played by Don Johnson, the latest forgotten actor to have his career revived by QT (step right up, Bruce Willis and John Travolta).
Ironically, it begins to drag the moment the dynamic duo get to Candie’s plantation. There are some long, long speeches and exchanges as Tarantino lets the narrative play out, but unlike in Inglourious Basterds where it ramps up the tension, this only makes the audience restless. With a tighter script, it could have been about 15-20 minutes shorter. But Django Unchained has plenty of humour too, in particular a hilarious scene where gunmen in white masks with eyeholes – a sort of precursor to the Ku Klux Klan – struggle to see before carrying out a raid.
Django Unchained opens in Singapore today. Are you planning to watch it? Let me know what you thought of it!