Friday, 8 February 2013

Film Review | Django Unchained (2013)

Promoting Django Unchained in an interview with Playboy Magazine at the end of last year, Quentin Tarantino was quoted as saying that "directors don't get better as they get older. Usually the worst films in their filmography are those last four at the end. I'm all about my filmography, and one bad film fucks up three good ones". Ironically, if there is any contemporary director whose output disproves this theory, it's Tarantino himself. And if Django Unchained ended up being his last hurrah, then what a spectacular way it would be to sew up Tarantino's beloved filmography.

Django Unchained in many ways feels like the spiritual and natural successor to Tarantino's most recent previous work, Inglourious Basterds, with the two films in conjunction feeling as though they hail a renaissance in the director's career. Tarantino is no longer the young upstart on the scene, the indie filmmaker who reshaped 1990s cinema with the one-two combo of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. That's not to say that his films no longer have the impact they once did. Quite the contrary in fact: Inglourious Basterds was so bold in its execution, so finely mastered by the man behind the camera, that it couldn't help but redefine war films for the modern era. Django Unchained does the same for the western genre, arguably with even greater success.

This is hands down Tarantino's finest story yet. From the opening scenes to the final moments, Tarantino the writer knows exactly where he's taking Django as well as every other character involved; Tarantino the director assuredly takes you along with them every step. This is intoxicating cinema, both brutal and beautiful - Django Unchained shows that the jawdropping cinematography of Inglourious Basterds was no one-off. Tarantino may beg, steal and borrow from his encyclopaedic passion for cinema when crafting his tales, but nobody can deny that he is one of the most artistically proficient filmmakers making movies today.

Tarantino's skill for drawing out the very best work from his actors is as robust as ever here. Jamie Foxx as Django is intense and immeasurably cool, developing the character over the film's effortless 165 minutes without putting a foot wrong. Alongside him is Christoph Waltz's dentist-turned-bounty-hunter Dr. King Schultz. It's almost unfair to compare Waltz's performance here to his enigmatic turn as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, so I simply won't. Waltz is once again superb, immediately creating a captivating curiosity of a character who you can't help but warm to. Waltz regularly makes Schultz a genuinely funny character too, relieving some of Django Unchained's inherent heaviness with a perfectly timed quip or a charming demonstration of the Schultz's gift of the gab. The chemistry between Foxx and Waltz is palpable and rich, two fine actors on top of their game brilliantly glancing off one another wonderfully throughout.

If the film's first half belongs to Waltz and Foxx, then its second is firmly in the joint possession of Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson. DiCaprio's incomparably vile plantation owner Calvin Candie is a villain for the ages, with the actor imbuing his creation with a heady mix of Southern hospitality and monstrous cruelty. Matching DiCaprio in detestabilty is Jackson as Stephen, Candie's aging Uncle Tom of a house slave. His is a performance as captivating as it is ire-inducing, the actor's finest since his last major role in a Tarantino film as Ordell Robbie in 1997's Jackie Brown.

Django Unchained comes together brilliantly as Tarantino's most mature work yet. The director strides assuredly and masterfully into his third decade of filmmaking with fresh ideas and increasingly impressive cinematic style and craft, whilst at the same time making clear that same burning desire and unbridled passion for every element of every moment of his films seen since his earliest work. During the same interview referenced earlier, Tarantino suggested that he may stop directing after his tenth film. If he follows through with this plan, it means we've got three more films to see from him yet. And if Django Unchained is anything to go by, we've potentially got some of the finest cinema ever created to look forward to.


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