Django Unchained (R16) (165 min)
Directed by Quentin Tarantino. Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L Jackson
Set in the years immediately before to the American Civil war, Django Unchained follows the fortunes of a freed slave, and the bounty hunter who gave him his life back. After a tense and nicely choreographed opening, our two heroes are soon earning a living knocking off any varmint, miscreant, or ne'er do well with a price on his head that justifies the expense of a bullet. Which means pretty much all of them. And since Christoph Waltz's German dentist-turned-killer is a dead eye with a concealed Derringer up his sleeve, and Jamie Foxx's Django is a natural who could shoot the nuts off a squirrel at a hundred paces, business is truly going gang busters.
But Django has a motive far nobler than just making money by killing bad white men. He wants to revenge himself on the thugs who tormented him when he was a slave. And then, Django will find and free his wife, the improbably named Broomhilda. To all this, the German agrees. If Django works with him over the winter, he will devise a plan to rescue Broomhilda come the spring.
Tarantino has been here before. His very best films since Reservoir Dogs have been the two Kill Bill instalments. And Kill Bill followed a very similar pulp classic plot: a great wrong has been done, but to wreak revenge, our hero is going to have to virtually die and be reborn. It's familiar territory to anyone who loves the golden age of the spaghetti western, or a vintage martial arts movie, or to anyone who's watched the B grade revenge flicks of the 60s and early 70s. And no one knows these films better than the obsessive ex-video store clerk Tarantino.
And so Django Unchained emerges as a fully formed hybrid of three or four of the most raucous, entertaining, and difficult genres of the lot. It is a blaxploitation western, set to the rhythms of some lost samurai epic. It is also – if this even needs saying – a thunderous return to form for Tarantino.
Django Unchained is a hell of a film. It is as funny, outlandish, inventive, and occasionally shocking as only Tarantino at his very best can be. But it is also a film that knows it must carry a parcel of authentic moral rectitude if it is ever going to be worth celebrating, and that is where Django' succeeds mightily. Tarantino unequivocally characterises the men who kept slaves as the very essence of evil and cowardice. While the fight to free a slave is something that can and should be won by any means necessary.
But Django Unchained just doesn't want to end. We reach the natural wrapping up point of the third act, but still the baddies are on top. And so we head off into a gratuitous, hugely entertaining, fourth act. Tarantino's own comic cameo signals that the film has taken itself seriously for long enough, and Tarantino now intends to have some old fashioned fun. The last 10 minutes or so of Django Unchained are pure Quentin Unhinged. Anyone who can be shot, is. Anything that can blow up, does. It's an ear-ringing, jaw-dropping way to go out. I left the theatre grinning my face off. You probably will too.
- The Dominion Post
Have you read Kiwi author Eleanor Catton's Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Luminaries?Related story: What now for Eleanor Catton?