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Django Unchained

Year: 2013
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L Jackson, kerry Washington, Don Johnson, Franco Nero, Bruce Dern, M C Gainey, Zoe Bell, Robert Carradine, Tom Savini, Michael Parks, Quentin Tarantino, John Jarratt

Here's the thing about Quentin Tarantion. He makes good films, but not since Pulp Fiction has he made an original film. His oeuvre since then has been loving homages to genres and styles that formed him, and that's fine. But every time I watch one of his movies (despite the extremely high quality and as entertaining as they invariably are) I can't get it out of the back of my mind that I'm watching remakes of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Love Camp 7 or Zombie Flesh Eaters with much better budgets.

Having said that, there's nothing else not to love about Django Unchained. Loosely based on a 1960s Italian western and a string of unofficial sequels, it's Tarantino's take on the violent Western and like Kill Bill, it's a roaring rampage of revenge. An enigmatic German dentist-turned-bounty-hunter King Schultz (Waltz) emerges out of the darkness one night upon a pair of brothers leading a chained slave gang. Schultz wants one in particular, Django (Foxx), who alone can identify the quarry Schultz is hunting. When the recalcitrant slave owners refuse, Schultz displays his prowess with a gun as well as his wit by overpowering them with deadly force and freeing the chain gang, offering Django his freedom if he'll help identify the men he's tracking.

After a successful hit at the farm of the Colonel Sanders-like Big Daddy (Johnson), Schultz knows a natural when he sees it, and he suggest the pair team up for the winter and make some money, after which Schultz promises to help Django rescue his wife Broomhilda (Washington) from wherever she was sold. After a very prosperous and profitable time together, Django and King trace Broomhilda to the plantation of a man as grotesque as he is suave, Calvin (DiCaprio, further cementing his talent and doing a good job stretching himself away from the pretty persona his baby-faced looks constantly saddle him with).

They might have a chance of outwitting Calvin posing as buyers interested in a black fighter, but the wily lead house slave Stephen (Jackson), doesn't miss a trick and can see they're up to something. The climax of Schultz and Django's dealings with Calvin comes in a gruesomely bloody shootout, blood exploding in balloons from bodies in garish, livid sprays lit from behind to look like bombs going off. It showers every wall of the house as Candie's goons charge through doors only to be cut down by Django's unwavering arm.

The scene looks and feels to all intents and purposes like a climax, but there's more to come after Django finds himself backed into a corner and forced to give up. Stephen unwittingly saves him from a terrible fate by selling him onto other slavers rather than the grisly fate most of Calvin's goons want to visit on him.

In an amusing coda of Tarantino playing an Australian prospector, Django talks his way into escaping one more time so he return to the mansion and do what he set out to do by saving Broomhilda.

Depending on the depth of your film knowledge you'll be able to see some of the references (Broomhilde's last name is 'von Shaft', but I had no idea until later it was Franco Nero – the original Django – who says 'I know' at the Cleopatra Club when Django spells his name but explains that the 'd' is silent), but the only one who knows them all will be the biggest movie geek in the theatre, Tarantino himself.

It feels a little more relaxed in style than his other films, content to just stage action and point a camera at it instead of cramming the action with self conscious shots that call attention to themselves. It's an interesting story with a near-perfect reference point to a bygone era, full of gushing bouts of violence, great performances and a lot of laughs.

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