This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th January 2013
It’s hard to believe the master of genre-bending hadn’t made one already, but Quentin Tarantino’s western has been worth waiting for.
Connoisseur of the in-joke, the Oscar-nominated writer/director has updated the 1966 “classic” Django, a true-school spaghetti western which starred Franco Nero (to whom he gives a cameo in this film, naturally). Taking the lead is Jamie Foxx (Collateral, Ray) as the eponymous freed slave who pairs up with smart-talking Dr Schultz on a quest to find his enslaved wife and free her from cruel, Francophile plantation owner Calvin J. Candie (a superb turn by Leonardo DiCaprio).
The story provides all the usual Tarantinesque tropes of whip-smart dialogue, bombastic gunplay and moments of outlandish hilarity (a troupe of Ku Klux Klan members griping about their unwieldy homemade hoods provides laugh-out-loud relief among scenes of bodies fighting, whipping or exploding). The accusations of uber-violence are unfounded, however, not least because all Tarantino’s films include violence (and a story about avenging slavery is hardly going to shy away from it) but moreover because the shootouts are so over-the-top and bloody, you can practically taste the corn syrup. Compared with Seven Psychopaths and even Gangster Squad, it is far less brutal.
Oscar winner for Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz has been nominated again for his portrayal of the bounty hunter Schultz, and he steals every scene (particularly from the comparatively opaque Foxx), even when up against the feisty, dangerous, Uncle Tom of a manservant played by Samuel L. Jackson.
True to form, bursts of modern-day hip-hop infect a soundtrack that includes classical contributions from Ennio Morricone, as Tarantino crafts a beautifully photographed landscape to house his engaging story. Also predictably, he doesn’t know when to stop: following a natural lull towards the end, the director then appears as an Australian (!) in a distracting, tacked-on scene, forgiven only since it delivers us our happy ending.