KATHMANDU: Quentin Tarantino keeps up his reputation as a cult favourite following 2009’s Inglourious Basterds with Django Unchained that has every known clichés in a revenge movie including a title song and enough stylistic shots to make audiences grin
Quibbles aside that Django Unchained well-deserved its Oscar nomination is without a doubt.
From the moment Jamie Foxx throws off a filthy, tattered blanket to reveal a richly muscled back crisscrossed with long scars, it’s obvious that Django Unchained will be both true to its exploitation roots but also clear-eyed about the misery that’s being exploited. Django (Foxx), a slave set free in the years before the Civil War, joins with a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter (the marvellous Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds), who has promised to help Django rescue his wife (Kerry Washington), who’s still enslaved to a gleeful and grandiose plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio, plainly relishing the opportunity to play an out-and-out villain). For all its lurid violence and jazzy dialogue, this is a still-rare movie that paints slavery for what it was — a brutal, dehumanising practice that allowed a privileged few to profit from the suffering of many, a practice guaranteed by the gun and the whip. Think of it as the antidote to Gone with the Wind.
An immediate follow-up to the 2009 masterpiece, Django Unchained keeps in step with Inglourious Basterds in framework: they’re both period pieces, both stories about a people’s oppression, both vehicles for the tremendous talent that is Christoph Waltz. But where Tarantino’s World War II wonder felt like a meticulous melding of his outsider auterism and mainstream dramatic cinema, Django is more an example of Tarantino’s heightened confidence as a result of Inglourious — he has conquered the mainstream world, and now can infuse it with everything he might have been holding back last time around.
The story takes the charismatic King Schultz (Waltz), a pre-Civil War dentist-turned-bounty hunter, on a mission to assassinate a trio of known criminals. He teams up with slave Django (Jamie Foxx) — whom he apprehends by murdering his masters — because investigations have led him to understand Django is someone who can identify by sight the targets in question. A moralistic opponent of the very idea of slavery, not to mention a big-hearted romantic, Schultz agrees to both grant Django his legal freedom and to help him rescue his beloved wife Broomhilda (Washington) from the clutches of a sinister slave owner in exchange for his assistance in completing a montage of bounty missions.
The pair’s early journeys offer a good deal of fun — the first act of the movie is chock full of Mind Tricks imparted by Schultz upon enemies of the conquest, Kill Bill-ian cutaways, and an off-kilter vignette that plants a horde of Klan members in goof-around banter that would be more at home in Blazing
Saddles. But once Schultz and Django arrive at the plantation of the dastardly Calvin Candie, who has fostered a great deal of excitement with this casting but downplays any opportunity for memorable madness, to rescue Broomhilda, the fury of the film dips.
Several meandering exchanges between Candie and his visitors (employing the façade of slave traders interested in purchasing some of Candie’s prized Mandingo fighters) precede a dinner setting that is established to grant the heroes certain triumph or certain doom. Where this chapter of the story should easily be the most engrossing — akin in form to Inglourious’ high-anxiety bar showdown or Pulp Fiction’s diner robbery, we never break a sweat. Even when suspicions arise — courtesy of babbling house servant/secret mastermind of the Candie operation Stephen’s (Samuel L Jackson, whose performance is a gem)