I’m gonna lynch you, sucka

This brazenly blaz­ing rewrite of US his­tory is fan­tas­ti­cally en­ter­tain­ing, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

DJANGO UN­CHAINED ★★★★★

Di­rected by Quentin Tarantino. Star­ring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Sa­muel L Jack­son, Wal­ton Gog­gins, Dennis Christo­pher, James Re­mar, Michael Parks, Don John­son, Bruce Dern, Jonah Hill, James Russo, Tom Wopat, Don Stroud, Russ Tam­blyn, Robert Car­ra­dine, Tom Savini, Franco Nero 18 cert, gen­eral re­lease, 165 min

It’s two years be­fore the Amer­i­can Civil War and Django (a car­nal, smoul­der­ing Jamie Foxx) is work­ing on the chain gang. His bru­talised, shack­led com­pan­ions are but shells of men as they’re marched through Texas by the sadis­tic, whip-happy Speck Brothers: Django, how­ever, re­tains a defiant, an­gry glint of hu­man­ity.

This sorry car­a­van is quickly and mer­ci­fully in­ter­cepted. Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, tremen­dous), an im­pos­si­bly lo­qua­cious Ger­man den­tist and bounty hunter, re­quires Django’s as­sis­tance in track­ing down the Brit­tle brothers, a tri­umvi­rate of killers.

The im­me­di­ately like­able Schultz is the flip­side of Waltz’s equally ver­bose Colonel Hans Landa from In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds. This markedly less evil ver­sion makes a gen­er­ous of­fer for the slave, the only soul who can iden­tify the trio, and gab­bles away like a shrewder Bob Hope in The Pale­face. His sec­ond time of ask­ing will be rather less com­i­cal.

The open­ing gam­bit of Quentin Tarantino’s ea­gerly awaited spaghetti west­ern – a world of epic snows­capes and sound stages pho­tographed by Robert Robert­son – marks the start of a beau­ti­ful (and rather prof­itable) friend­ship. To­gether Django and Schultz rack up var­i­ous government boun­ties and de­ter­mine to find the former’s wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), a Ger­man-speak­ing an­ces­tor of blax­ploita­tion hero John Shaft.

Their res­cue mis­sion brings them to Candy­land, a plan­ta­tion owned and op­er­ated by the ruth­less Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in his best per­for­mance since What’s Eat­ing Gil­bert Grape?), a lu­natic linch­pin of the Mandingo fight­ing cir­cuit.

There’s a moment dur­ing 2007’s oth­er­wise pretty corny Free­dom Writ­ers in which in­ner city gal Eva, now half way through read­ing The Di­ary of Anne Frank, con­fronts her pre­dictably in­spir­ing teacher (Hilary Swank): “When is Anne gonna smoke Hitler?” she cries, ex­as­per­at­edly.

It’s hardly a film that will have trou­bled an au­teur such as Tarantino, but that small ex­change rings true. The time-trav­el­ling avenger is a uni­ver­sal no­tion that ap­peals to ev­ery kid pos­sessed with even a slither of imag­i­na­tion but not yet ac­quainted with the darker im­pli­ca­tions of cause and ef­fect. Who hasn’t longed to put the bar­baric kings and rapist popes of yore in their place? Who hasn’t wanted Lady Jus­tice to tra­verse dead cen­turies and make like Hat­tori Hanzô with her blade?

Tarantino knows as much; he, of course, has al­ready smoked Hitler in a movie the­atre through the agency of a Jewish woman and her black lover. It’s not how WWII Iended ac­cord­ing to the his­tory books – it’s a vast im­prove­ment.

Thus, Django Un­chained bor­rows struc­turally from the spaghetti west­ern and the rape-re­venge fan­tasy to avert any need for the im­pend­ing split in the Union. Sly ref­er­ences to Gone with the Wind and The Dukes of Haz­zard dec­i­mate the white­washed de­pic­tions of plan­ta­tion life of­fered up since the ad­vent of mov­ing pic­tures. Slav­ery in Django Un­chained is un­flinch­ingly in­hu­mane and vi­o­lent.

The proudly post­mod­ern di­rec­tor charts a pop cul­tural ex­panse that takes in ev­ery blar­ing Ital­ian horse opera (orig­i­nal Django Franco Nero props up the bar) and ev­ery west­ern since The Great Train Rob­bery (Ed­win Porter looks out from a Wanted poster).

For Tarantino, how­ever, the Deep South and slav­ery is com­pli­cated, more com­pli­cated even, than the ren­di­tion found in Spiel­berg’s ap­pro­pri­ately con­vo­luted Lin­coln. This is the work of an older, wiser screen­writer and film-maker than the movie-lov­ing au­thor of True Ro­mance. Here, a lin­ger­ing fron­tier cul­ture throws up odd pioneers in the fash­ion of Klaus Kin­ski’s Loco and plan­ta­tion life throws up anachro­nisms like Sa­muel L Jack­son’s poignantly, mil­i­tantly loyal Un­cle Tom.

In an au­da­cious coup d’état, Tarantino rips up both Amer­i­can his­tory and film canon with a comic reprise of DW Grif­fith’s The Birth of a Na­tion set 10 years be­fore the Klan’s of­fi­cial for­ma­tion and fea­tur­ing un­likely Klans­man Jonah Hill. Who needs facts when there is great vengeance, fu­ri­ous anger and the path of right­eous­ness to at­tend to?

The mag­pie de­serves our re­spect. Al­ways. For­ever.

Jamie Foxx looks set to get all Mandingo on slaver­mon­ger Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Un­chained

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