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Django Unchained
Genre Western

Slavery is not dead, it's alive and well in Hollywood. We're not talking about those struggling actors chained to their trailers between takes, being forced to succumb to the hardship of celebrity, we're taking about a trend that has emerged in 2012 in Cloud Atlas, Lincoln and most notably Django Unchained, in a story about a free man trying to rescue his wife from a plantation.

Quentin Tarantino's got a penchant for movies about raw deals and underdogs, and as such returns to this theme again and again. That's why he hires "has-beens" like John Travolta, Darryl Hannah and Don Johnson, resurrecting, reinventing and recapturing their once-great careers. And that's why his movies feature individuals or groups who have suffered some cruel, unjust and intolerable ordeal.

Uma Thurman crusaded for women in Kill Bill: Vol 1 & 2, arming a bloody bride with a sword to bring down the system of oppression. The Inglourious Basterds, a special task force of Jewish soldiers, unleashed their fearful vengeance by clubbing to death and scalping hordes of Nazis and now Django Unchained chronicles the rise and vengeance of a slave-turned-assassin.

Supporting the underdog and seeing them conquer the seemingly insurmountable is a feel good movie waiting to happen... Except, this is Quentin Tarantino, whose flair for dark comedy, retro styling and ultra-violence is what makes his genre-bending concoctions so potent, so controversial and so enticing.

Django Unchained continues Tarantino's fascination with Sergio Leone and spaghetti Westerns. He's gone even more Western than Inglourious Basterds, bringing Christoph Waltz along as a hit man to help him finish the job. Waltz does just that... gracefully charming his way through Django Unchained in a complex "supporting" performance, which is actually more of a co-lead. He did it in Inglourious Basterds, and his sheer presence makes Django Unchained feel like an unofficial sequel.

Jamie Foxx takes the title role of Django, giving himself to a brooding and consistent performance, which amounts to the role of glorified sidekick next to another brilliant turn by Waltz. Foxx has the talent, but basically submits a Mark Wahlberg type performance as Django, generously giving up the limelight for his co-stars to shine.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a fine actor, one who seems to have got a raw deal of his own when it comes to awards season. Frequently and deservedly nominated, DiCaprio is still in search of that performance that blows the house down. While quite brilliant as Calvin Candie, a brutal plantation owner, his memorable and eccentric role just doesn't have the screen time after a late appearance. Although, based on this performance - he's bound to give Willem Dafoe a run for his money as Tex Hex if they ever adapt Bravestarr.

Tarantino regular, Samuel L. Jackson, makes a huge splash with one of the smaller roles in the film, portraying one of the most treacherous characters. His make up may be a little iffy, but Jackson's performance is both funny and despicable as Candie's slave manager and unofficial second-in-command. Kerry Washington may have very few lines, but conveys gut-wrenching anguish in an understated performance.

Django Unchained bristles with tension, building wave after wave of beautifully constructed drama only to snap before regathering and starting again in the Leone tradition. He captures a strange, unpredictable atmosphere that ranges from camp comedy to relentless brutality. Tarantino let's Django Unchained out like a kite, allowing it to get caught up in the storm, only to bring it back into view without ever losing grip.

The film's characters are overtly prejudiced, running the n-word into the ground with repetition. This is further compounded, by the shocking to exploitative violence and mistreatment of slaves, taking the audience out of their comfort zone. The script is rife with these jagged moments to the point that you're not sure if Tarantino is using the content to make a statement or simply provoke reaction.

Django Unchained is something old, something new, something borrowed and something red, white and blue - cutting a slice of American history with the sharp edge of the Zeitgeist. It's a taut film that functions without rules, leaning on its sharp, distinctly Tarantino script and several excellent performances to generate spark and maintain its audience. While it struggles to keep the flame alive in the closing fifteen minutes, it remains a provocative, untamed beast of a film.

The bottom line: Unflinching

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