Making a western about a freed slave-turned-bounty hunter who searches for his wife could have proved disastrous.
The idea of a white director adding elements of ’70s-style ‘blaxploitation’ to the mix, while exploring a period of history full of vile racism caused concern before Django Unchained even hit cinema screens.
Thankfully though, that director was Quentin Tarantino, who offered an outrageously entertaining revenge flick that received widespread critical acclaim.
Tarantino simply ‘gets’ cinema. Whether he’s filming a man scraping the foam from a pint of beer or the rattling chains on a line of slaves, Tarantino truly understands the way images and sounds affect an audience.
Throughout the film, Tarantino toys with the viewer, switching the tone again and again to create a wild and surprisingly emotional ride.
For example, an initially terrifying encounter with the Ku Klux Klan abruptly turns to comedy as the dim-witted members complain about not being able to see through the eyeholes in their hoods. It’s like something out of South Park.
However, Django isn’t a flippant film. Tarantino never flinches from showing the realities of slavery and the fact that certain human beings were once viewed as property.
A scene where Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is whipped while Django begs the slaver to stop is truly upsetting to watch. The horrifying ‘mandingo fight’ offers another disturbing moment, as Django and Schultz try to act as if they are unaffected by two men ordered to fight to the death.
The film boasts many excellent performances too.
Jamie Foxx is strong as Django, making a believable journey from scared and submissive victim to confident gunslinging hero.
Christoph Waltz impresses as Dr King Schultz, a German bounty-hunter who forms a moving friendship with Django.
Leonardo DiCaprio is perfect as detestable, pretentious slave owner Calvin Candie, while Samuel L Jackson dazzles as the sinister Stephen – a black man given a privileged position in Candie’s home, who despicably tries to undermine Django’s quest.