I love Westerns. John Wayne, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood, Sam Peckinpah, John Ford, Howard Hawkes, Charles Bronson, many famous names have graced the genre but for me, the more cynical European westerns are those that stuck with me the most, the most famous examples being the well known 'Spaghetti Westerns'.
Quentin Tarantino's last few films have paid homage to several genres, martial arts films in Kill Bill Vol.1 for instance but the conventions of the western were only touched upon in Kill Bill Vol. 2. Django Unchained is a proper, full on western. Large expanses of inhospitable land, stock bounty hunters with their trusty horses, gangs of bandits and lawlessness. However, as with any Tarantino film, there is more than that.
Set deep against the back drop of slavery, the title character is Django, no doubt named after similar genre film Django (1966). Anyway, Django is played by Jamie Foxx who is really good, he is cool and emotive when necessary and gets to say/do some awesome things. The man who finds him is German dentist King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz. Now, I was a huge fan of Waltz as Hans Landa in Tarantino's previous Inglorious Basterds but he is better in this film. He is funny, witty, articulate and the character is a really nice one, one of Tarantino's best.
Now we move onto Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, I just wonder why DiCaprio doesn't take more villainous roles because he is really, really good in this. A true southern gentleman who just happens to be a horrible racist and a sadist. A great villainous character at his best when trading words with King Schultz in several tense and extended conversations. Samuel L. Jackson is also chilling as Steven, Jackson being at his best for years and years and years. His character is part uncomfortably exaggerated stereotype but his quick eyes and slight tremor give him a true intelligence and an edge you wouldn't expect from his first scene.
And, perhaps like many of the most famous western films, there are little or no strong female characters in the film, Kerry Washington is well spoken and intelligent but she is mostly the drive for Django and not much more. It is a very male dominated world and she (and other females) certainly aren't center stage much at all.
Indeed, good dialogue is something you expect from a Tarantino film and whilst no individual scene has the sheer power of the opening scene from Inglorious Basterds, the overall quality of the film is fantastic. There are a few scenes with are straight from Blazing Saddles with their absurdist humour and they are very funny. The film feels like two films in tone, but not too dramatically. The second part is much more out and out revenge film than the first part.
The film is a long one, several scenes perhaps go on for longer than needed but the film doesn't drag at all. The film looks gorgeous, incredible. The palette of colours is much more vivid than you'd expect and many of the shots are simply stunning to view. Again, the soundtrack is impressive as you'd come to expect.
So really, it's a really good Tarantino film. There are several things you'd expect from a film from the director and to be honest, Tarantino's cameo role shows that he's not a good actor. The nature of a film set in this period also creates some very uncomfortable scenes, the visuals of which will shock you but you end up desensitised to the language used.
But for all the violence and language, you end up with a compelling, cool and funny revenge flick which surpasses Inglorious Basterds and maybe even Kill Bill. Well worth a watch.