Director: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L.Jackson, Kerry Washington, Don Johnson.
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Running Time: 165 mins
Release date: 18th January 2013
There has been a lot already written about Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained. It has been accused of not taking the subject matter of slavery seriously, that it was flippant about it and used as a just a plot device to centre a movie around. I disagree. Yes this is a film in which slavery in the Southern states of America during the 1800s plays an important part but this is a Western and if this is going to be accused of that, what about the hundreds of times Native Americans were used as plot devices so that John Wayne could shoot them down. No. What I saw was a rip-roaring, ultra-violent, uber cool western from a director back on the top of his game.
Dr King Schultz, a dentist, comes across two cowboys with a train of slaves. Wanting to buy one of them from the men but meeting with some reservation, Schultz makes them another offer, a bullet from his gun and allows the slave, Django, his freedom if he will help him identify three men who had brutalized him and his wife. Django agrees. It turns out that Schultz isn’t a dentist but a bounty hunter and he invites Django to join him on his quest across the country, earning money from shooting white men.
Django has his own story, trying to find his wife and get her the chance to have freedom too. This leads them to a plantation in Mississippi, owned by Calvin Candi, a ruthless gambler who sells and mistreats slaves.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. It’s far too long. At 15 minutes short of three hours, Tarantino needs to learn the art of editing. He tends to keep everything he writes on screen, a regular occurrence for writer/directors. They don’t like losing a thing they wrote. Having said that, it’s not a dull 2 hours and 45 minutes. On the contrary. This zips through it’s running time like a runaway train. (Unlike Lincoln, which is a like a snail).
The story is interesting but as we know, Tarantino knows how to write dialogue and he is really on fire here. There will be several scenes that will go down as classic in the near future, none so than the mountain speech. His dialogue crackles throughout and he doesn’t have a chance to use pop culture as a central reference, like he has in previous films. Setting it in 1858, there wasn’t many movies or songs to use as plot fillers.
It is also filled with great performances. As the title character, Jamie Foxx is the least impressive, even though he is great as a silent killer. The part doesn’t demand too much from the actor but what it does, Foxx handles well. Strange that the central chatacter should be the less showy.
Having already walked away with Tarantino’s previous film, Inglorious Basterds, Christoph Waltz does it again here as Dr King Schultz. He is such a skilled performer that even the most mundane scene can seem extraordinary. He is funny, smooth and incredibly deadly and it’s a performance that should be treasured. Potential Oscar winner? Could be.
Leonardo DiCaprio genuinely looks like he is having the time of his life. He relishes every opportunity to ham it up as the evil Calvin Candi. When he is on screen with Waltz, it’s like two scene-chewing actors at war and it makes for even more entertainment. Samuel L. Jackson, playing Candi’s loyal follower Stephen, has never been better. It’s a well measured performance from an actor is is allowed to show the world that he is more than the coolest man alive.
The violence is turned up to 11, with blood splattering everywhere and it is very graphic but this is more than just another rip-off spaghetti western (where the character originated (made in 1966, Django was one of the more popular character from that period with Franco Nero as the lead. He also pops up here in a neat little cameo). This is a thoroughly entertaining piece of escapism.
Tarantino has had a very checkered career. Inglorious Basterds was getting there but here he has found the same mojo he had in his early career. It is his best film since Jackie Brown and length forgiven (as well as Tarantino’s ludicrous cameo as an Australian????) , it’s the best film I’ve seen this year so far. And the best soundtrack I’ve heard in a film for a very long time.