Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained is a happy whip, drawing as much blood as laughter. It runs on Road Runner humour, fired by cruel comedy, cartoon revenge, cracking you up and making you wince, and that balancing act has always been one of the secrets of Tarantino's brilliance. Still, this is a serious film about history and how cinema appropriates history. In a year that most Oscar-contending titles lay pompous claims to accurate retelling of the past, from Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, the blissful disregard of "history" somehow makes Django the most truthful film of the lot. Or at least it feels truthful in spirit, leaving the grandstanding of other filmmakers looking spurious, frivolous, or simply wrong.
Jamie Foxx is an ex-slave on a mission in Django Unchained.
The Jews got to club the Nazis in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, now it's the black slaves who get to cane the white masters. Set in the pre-emancipated American South, Django Unchained could have been a prequel to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (which opens here next Thursday), a sort of wacky brother to the headmasterish elder. In Basterds, Tarantino's half-playful, half-serious scheme to show how cinema can alter World War II history is an open conspiracy; in Django, the subversiveness is aimed at both the shameful past of the birth of the American nation and at American cinema that has long skirted the subject. The two films are often described as "revenge fantasy", and because fantasy is to look at truth from a different angle, it can sometimes hit the nail more directly in the head. It can also give us _ us being neither black nor white _ a jolly good laugh along the way.
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