'Django Unchained' a bloody masterpiece

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:44 AM ET

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained is a bloody masterpiece about American slavery.

Think of it as the gore-filled antidote to the old-school melodrama of Gone With the Wind. That 1939 picture may be a Hollywood classic, but it still treats the pre-Civil War south with reverence. Django Unchained rips away the lace veil and shows the reality of slavery as a malignant tumour.

Yet Tarantino is taking an enormous risk. Not politically but cinematically. Django Unchained may repel the squeamish with its operatic violence and frequent N-bombs. The film will freak out racists who hate Tarantino's take on the subject. But it may even disgust or confuse Americans from any heritage who want a conventional drama on such a serious historical subject.

Instead, we get Tarantino's gleeful mashup of spaghetti western, blaxploitation cinema, bounty-hunting buddy movie, sardonic comedy and unabashed romantic melodrama. Bring it on! This is brilliant filmmaking. It is even better than Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino's re-imagining of World War II, with Hitler consumed in hellfire.

Taking place in the Antebellum-era of American from 1858 into 1859, with story elements set in the Old West and in the deep South, Django Unchained is a pure Tarantino original. His expansive script puts two men into an unholy and unlikely partnership that leads to astonishing and cathartic results. Tarantino's filmmaking techniques make everything look heightened, surrealistic, even fabulous.

Christoph Waltz (the despicable Nazi from Inglourius Basterds) is now a German dentist who has taken up bounty hunting in the American West. He captures outlaws on wanted posters, finding it easier to take in corpses, given the dead-or-alive option. In 1858, he "buys" an African-American slave named Django. While he has ulterior motives, Waltz is also an abolitionist. He frees and befriends Django.

Jamie Foxx plays Django as a combination of Moses, Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and a black avenging angel. Fortunately, in league with Tarantino's direction, Foxx also gets to humanize him as an oppressed man who relishes his sudden, unexpected emancipation. It is exhilarating to watch as he evolves into an iconic figure in this epic film.

Together, Waltz and Foxx eventually face down the spectre of slavery in the Old South. The film changes tone but it still has attitude. Circumstances put our unusual heroes up against two powerful plantation owners. First, they face off with a hide-bound traditionalist (Don Johnson). Then, as part of a rescue quest, they enter into business with a "charming" psychopath (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Johnson is fun to see vanquished. But DiCaprio represents a different breed. Even while playing out the stylistic flourishes of his genre mashup, Tarantino vividly shows the reality and brutality of real slavery. DiCaprio's character indulges in "mandingo fighting" in which slave combatants fight to the death. By the time the disguised Waltz and Foxx ride into DiCaprio's plantation, Candieland, we are ready for action and vengeance.

The stakes are raised even higher when we meet Samuel L. Jackson as the elderly house slave Stephen. He is now the rancid power broker behind DiCaprio's throne and willing to both sacrifice and savage Django's loved one (the wonderful Kerry Washington) in the deal.

Yes, the dial on your morality compass will spin crazily. But that is what a masterpiece should do: Engage the viewer in a powerful story well told. Django Unchained does just that -- with style!

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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