Quentin Tarantino continues his one man quest to rewrite historical injustices. His earlier WWII epic re-writing Hitler’s downfall as a bloody revenge fantasy. If “Inglorious Basterds” was his “Saving Private Ryan”, this is his “Amistad”.
Taking another inarguable wrong in the form of slavery, he has fashioned a very similar tale as Basterds but in a very different setting, the American South 1858. Utilising Christopher Waltz again to Oscar winning effect, as bounty hunter “Dr. King Schultz” with a taste for words and a world view at odds with the period in which he lives.
Waltz enters the film purportedly as a travelling dentist complete with preposterous “Tooth sign” above his carriage. He requires the help of slave in transit “Django” (Jamie Foxx), to identify two slavers just ripe for killing to then collect the bounty placed on their heads. He offers to pay to release Django, in typical Tarantino fashion, this does not go well.
Later, Django albeit dressed as adult version of little Lord Fauntleroy, proves his worth against incompetent plantation owner and Klansmen, “Big Daddy” (Don Johnson). Schultz quickly recognising that as a team they are a more effective unit, especially with Django’s marksmen skills. This ultimately leads to a hunt for Django’s captive wife (Kerry Washington) held in the clutches of the notorious brutal slaver and Candieland plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Di Caprio) and his obsequious House Slave “Stephen”, an almost unrecognisable Samuel L Jackson.
Candie is obsessed with Gallic ways yet cannot speak French and juxtaposes his supposed cultured mannerisms with enjoying “Mandingo” fights, brutal to the death bouts between slaves trained for the purpose, human dog or cock fighting by any other name.
Django is a strange sight for most to see, astride a horse and eventually decked out in a cool cowboy outfit and shades, he is a free black man creating startled looks wherever he goes. Remembering this is a Tarantino movie, the pair leave a violent and bloody trail wherever they travel. The climactic carnage is almost cartoon like, dialled up to 11 but by that point most audience members will be more than willing to see Django blow-away everyone and anyone that deserves their fate.
As usual the film is peppered with great dialogue, the opening scene in many ways echoing the famous opening “Nazi milk scene” from “Basterd’s”. All of the acting is excellent, Di Caprio acting against type and portraying a monster seemingly with some glee. Waltz is as good as ever in a role clearly tailored for him, with Foxx a stand-out believable character, forced to watch slaves ripped apart by dogs just to maintain his cover.
Whilst violent, this is more about revenge and correcting injustices, fantasy yes but tapping into a cinematic need to avenge those with no voice. Tarantino peppers his script with the usual clever dialogue, notably the scene where Klansman headdress is discussed, in may ways using humour to amplify the ridiculousness of the situation. “Stephens” reaction to the arrival of “Django” another case in point. In typical Tarantino style, music is again used eclectically, like a hyperactive magpie collecting music from different eras and using it in imaginative ways
Tarantino acting as an Australian complete with wobbly accent, is perhaps a weak spot and but he saves himself with only brief screen time and also by making a spectacular exit. This is also a long film which does move along quickly but at 165 minutes, may test some audience members “no break” policy.
The film makes no attempt to send a message or delve into the complexities of slavery, the reason for it’s existence and why it took so long to eradicate. However, the ability for plantation owners to quite literally do whatever they wished with their “possessions” is amply demonstrated, completely free from outside intervention, with the law quite literally on their side. This is black and white, almost childlike in simplicity, baddies to be killed and wrongs to be righted, with claret splashed style and razor sharp dialogue.
Fun, violent, witty and different in every way from anything else you will see, this comes highly recommended from a reviewer not usually appreciative of overly violent movies.