Widely and rather wildly lauded as a dramatic return to form, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) serves as a brilliantly entertaining, although not altogether unexpected piece of pastiche, caricature cinema. Set to the backdrop of America’s pre-Civil War plantations, it is in equal parts a revenge thriller and a buddy movie, led by a stellar cast with Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz on sublime form as its leading men. The story begins with Django (Foxx) being transported as a slave through the backwoods of Texas. On the journey, he and his captors happen upon what turns out to be fateful encounter with Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz.
Schultz frees Django and subsequently decides to help him reunite with his wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington. However, the evil Calvin Candie, played to sadistic perfection by Leonardo DiCaprio, is currently holding her captive on his Candyland plantation. What ensues is the tale of an unlikely friendship, as the pair embark on a mission of danger and brutality to bring Django and Broomhilda back together and exact revenge on Candie and his racist establishment.
While Django Unchained is unquestionably the work of a masterful director, with superb performances pulled from each and every one of its cast members, the readiness of so many to cite it as a major return to form is to overlook the qualities at work in Tarantino’s previous few outings – with the exception of the dreadful Death Proof (2007) – and possibly overstate the qualities on display here. In many ways, with Django Unchained, Tarantino continues to apply the same elements evident in each of his works since 1997’s Jackie Brown, simply shifting the genre-specific framework to accommodate them; Kill Bill (2002) – a bloody, violent revenge thriller in the martial arts genre; Inglorious Basterds (2009) – an exploitative thriller set during the Second World War; and now Django.
It’s this lack of originality, that some may argue lies at the heart of each of Tarantino’s films, that prevents Django Unchained from being labelled as a bona fide masterpiece. Despite being thoroughly enjoyable throughout, deftly offsetting the difficult subject matter with some genuinely funny moments, there isn’t quite enough to drag you back for multiple viewings. That said, while it fails to reach the dizzying heights of Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994), Django Unchained is certainly deserving of a place amongst Tarantino’s most celebrated works this side of the 21st century.
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