February Issue 2013
Once Upon a Time in the West
Quentin Tarantino. The name alone evokes a myriad of responses and it’s safe to say that this man is one of the most influential filmmakers alive.
Each release of his is awaited with anticipation and almost all his films leave audiences divided in their response. There are those who love his bold and self-indulgent filmmaking style and then there are those who simply couldn’t care less. With his latest, Django Unchained, Tarantino serves up a film which shares the same DNA with all his previous work and is certain to receive the same respective feedback from the two opposing sets of viewers.
Tarantino takes various ingredients and blends them all together to give us another unique cinema-going experience. In this case, it’s a combination of the spaghetti western take on slavery, a taut screenplay structure, unforgettable characters with unforgettable performances and, since it’s a Tarantino-film, there is obviously some crisp dialogue too.
Jamie Foxx plays our titular character, a slave called Django (mind you,‘the D is silent’), who, after being saved by a German-dentist-cum-bounty-hunter, Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), helps the latter find the bad guys he is looking for and, in turn, earns his freedom.
The film really takes off when Django decides to go free his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who works for the evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Dr King Schultz agrees to accompany Django because of her German name, but not before he trains the former slave to become a bounty hunter too. Once the pair arrives at the plantation, there are the usual Tarantino-esque set pieces of long, drawn-out conversations written with a lot of wit and intelligence. The dinner sequence, in particular, is a fine piece of filmmaking.
Calvin Candie, the villain of Django Unchained, is made from the same mould as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Tarantino has the remarkable ability to take on one of the worst periods in American history and make even the vile, rotten characters watchable. It’s also a compliment to the actors playing the respective part. DiCaprio has never played such a wicked character before and he looks perfectly at ease in a role that requires him to be calm one second and furious the other. Christoph Waltz, who in the film stands for the little that was right at the time of slavery, offers a nice contrast to his last Tarantino role in which he stood for everything that was wrong in Nazi Germany. He won an Oscar for his role in Inglourious Basterds and he’s nominated again this year in the Best Supporting Actor category — an award he certainly deserves.
The finest performance, however, comes from Samuel L. Jackson, the house slave who essentially incorporates elements from Calvin Candie and Dr King Schultz in one character. He’s deliciously slimy in a role that would come to good use if Jackson ever wanted to audition for the next Bond villain role.
Django Unchained, for a change, offers a simpler storyline than other Tarantino films but the treatment is so unique that every scene appears to be an epic even when it isn’t. Tarantino’s other films tend to have more layered narratives but here the filmmaker keeps things relatively simple. He’s aided by a fine hero, who is over-the-top and cartoonish only when absolutely necessary.
Django was last year’s best film and definitely a ride worth taking repeatedly.
Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany