Django Unchained is the latest film from Quentin Tarantino. The story revolves around slave-turned-bounty hunter Django (played by Jamie Foxx) and German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (played by Christoph Waltz) as they attempt to rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda (played by Kerry Washington).
Set in the deep south two years before the American Civil War, this an Spaghetti Western (or if you prefer, Spaghetti Southern) exploitation picture. It is packed with everything we have come to expect from Tarantino, for better or worse. There is a great deal of violence, a lot of talking, a mixtape soundtrack, and prolific use of racial slurs. So, pretty much business as usual.
As per usual, there is a faux-hysteria frothing in the press regarding violence in movies whenever Tarantino releases a new picture. This is so easily dismissed as to not even be worthy of comment. As for the violence in the movie, it seems far gorier than his previous work. Shotgun blasts send guts and chunks of brain flying across the screen in a way that was more unexpected than the ridiculous levels of blood spurting from severed limbs in Kill Bill. Here, as everywhere else, excessive violence is used as much as a comic device as anything else. It’s completely over the top in some places, but that is exactly the point.
Then there is the script. Again sidestepping the media-led frenzy regarding offensive language, it is one of his weakest. Some speeches don’t work as well as they might and there are more than a couple of one-liners that feel overly clunky, something which would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago. It certainly does have its brilliant moments, but there is far too much in here which could, and probably should have been cut.
The soundtrack is pretty good, with some great songs from Tarantino’s record collection, a number of which are lifted directly from classic westerns and some great original numbers. The one gripe I have with this is the use of rap music. Given his history of using unorthodox songs to great effect, giving a black protagonist a rap soundtrack for a big shoot-out seems particularly lazy.
The performances are almost universally great. Jamie Foxx does well playing the title role, though every scene is stolen, somewhat predictably, by Christoph Waltz as the slavery-hating, bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. Leonardo DiCaprio gives it all as brutal plantation owner Calvin Candie, but is somewhat letdown, as everyone is, by the script which is nowhere near as tightly written as it should have been. Given the onerous length (which clocks in at a completely self-indulgent 2 hours and 45 minutes), there is just far too much slack which leaves the actors having to carry the film far too often. This film could easily have been 45 minutes shorter and significantly improved by this.
I don’t want to give the impression is a bad film, but it is symptomatic of Tarantino’s reluctance to go outside of his comfort zone, whilst simultaneously indulging every fanboy whim with scant regard for the audience or the overall quality of the film. The first 30 minutes of the film are excellent and exactly the kind of violent, black comedy that he does best. But after that it kind of settles into a pretty consistent groove, which means there are no bits that clearly needed to be cut, but by the same token there was no need for them to be included.
If you like Tarantino’s previous work then you will enjoy large sections of this, but it certainly isn’t Tarantino at his best and certainly not deserving of Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.