‘Django Unchained’ review: This time, the payback is not for the faint-hearted!

Last Updated: Mar 22, 2013, 12:01 PM IST

Ananya Bhattacharya

“The D is silent”. But Quentin Tarantino’s revenge drama is every bit the opposite. Tarantino’s version of the character that filmmaker Sergio Corbucci had created way back in 1966 is a man who can exact his vengeance with the strongest of wills, go to any length and breadth to rescue his Broomhilda, who can leave one’s eyes moist at times and make them laugh with his statements at others. Django ‘Freeman’ is such a man. Added to this character are some elements that only a Tarantino film can boast of having; elements which make this one so much a Tarantino film.

Set in 1858, two years before America erupts out in war, Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees a slave from his masters. Schultz, a bounty hunter, is on the chase – his targets are men whom only Django (Jamie Foxx), the slave he frees, knows. Once Django becomes a free man, courtesy Schultz, in addition to being addressed by his rescuer as ‘Django Freeman’, aids the German along in his bounty hunting. Django has another agendum in mind – freeing his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) – a barbaric Southern lord who revels in seeing ‘niggahs’ kill each other bare-handedly or leaving escaping slaves in front of the jaws of hungry dogs.

Once Schultz is done with killing the men he freed Django to identify, the pursuit of Broomhilda takes the two to Candie-land. Schultz and Django have a secret plan in place – and they negotiate a deal with Calvin Candie that would end in rescuing Broomhilda. Candie, meanwhile, the king of his territory, is in possession of a slave called Stephen who is – simply put – Loyalty Incarnate. For Stephen, seeing a black riding a horse and the thought of having to let him enter Candie’s palatial mansion is nothing short of blasphemy as is evident from his near-hysterical outbursts. Our Schultz and Django, nevertheless, take on the role of Candie’s guests and crouch for the exact moment. A twisted trajectory of loyalty and rage ensues thereafter, meandering through mazes of the way the human mind works, the many domains of unadulterated love and so on.

As the slave who slowly masters himself in the art of bounty hunting and gun firing, Jamie Foxx’s Django is beyond comparison. He absorbs the very essence of the character and comes out extremely successful in his endeavour. The way Christoph Waltz steps into the shoes of his character, on the other hand, can leave one groping for words in the dictionary – to be able to find one to match his acting calibre would certainly be a feat worth boasting of! Dr. King Schultz is fabulous as the scheming bounty hunter who has a heart of gold beating away within. He doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger if the need be, but cannot imagine himself shaking hands with the brutal Calvin Candie. Guess the Academy Award for the Best Supporting Actor that Waltz has been decorated with recently is recognition of his acting skills to a certain extent, as are the numerous other awards that the role of Dr. King Schultz has won for him.

Leonardo DiCaprio – that innocent mentally challenged boy in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ to this portrayal of sheer evil on screen, the man has come a long way. Calvin Candie’s manic devilish laughter with the words, “Kill him!” while watching his slaves fight each other, the many instances when he plays the listener to his loyal slave Stephen, the times when rage blinds this Southern lord – Leonardo DiCaprio is beyond words in his current avatar. We sure have seen him deliver one spectacular performance after another in the last two decades, but ‘Django Unchained’ is one where he has outdone even himself. The supporting cast comprising Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington in their respective roles is excellent. The witty master-slave conversations between Stephen and Candie and the many poignant moments between Django and Broomhilda are where Jackson and Washington are at their best respectively.

All said and done, the fact still remains that it is a Quentin Tarantino film – the man who enjoys portraying blood and violence on screen with an unmatched appetite. There are ample killings, many sequences where blood and gore wash away everything else, shots where the guns take control over everything else – ‘Django Unchained’, by even a spaghetti western standard, is heavy on the senses. If any, this is perhaps the only area where one might think of giving ‘Django Unchained’ a miss – but that would entail missing out on a lot. In its sardonic treatment of the racism and slavery that America had once been so notorious for, ‘Django Unchained’ delivers a brilliant satire.

There’s the brutal bloody history of America, the excellently crafted dialogues, the wit neatly woven into normal scenes, the humour, the beautifully captured continent – there’s a lot that this film has to offer. ‘Django Unchained’ is the only Tarantino film that is not edited by Sally Menke since the master editor had breathed his last by the time this film was ready for the scissors, and Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ assistant editor Fred Raskin worked on the film. An extremely praiseworthy, crisp editing makes for a viewer to be engrossed in the film, and at a runtime of 165 minutes, that is a huge achievement! The background music is in place with the pace of the film and not for a moment does any score appear out of place.

With Quentin Tarantino, one needs to be prepared for violence – though in ‘Django Unchained’ it is high by even his standards. This one is not for the faint-hearted. Four stars from me for the master filmmaker’s latest.