Anachronistic musical choices, a period in history retooled to meet his own ends, long scenes of nothing but dialogue and a dash of the old ultraviolence. Yep, we’re watching a Quentin Tarantino film alright. Namely Django Unchained, a Southern (not a Western) and the seventh film from writer/director QT with Jamie Foxx as the titular freed slave turned bounty hunter.
Freed by travelling “dentist,” Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) takes Django under his wing, teaching him how to be a bounty hunter, and using his information to track and kill three slave trader brothers. A turn of events takes the two on a quest to rescue Django’s wife from the brutal slave owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The first hour of the film is easily the best, with lengthy but never dull character introductions (Waltz has such eloquence to his speech and Foxx lets his eyes do all the work), and the film has a playful exuberance in the opening hour and a bit. Scenes zip and the dialogue snaps, and more than anything its fun and (surprisingly) funny, culminating in the most uncomfortably hilarious scene you’ll see all year.
The second half of the film (it’s just shy of three hours long) when we arrive at Candie’s house is less successful but no less enjoyable. Here, Tarantino lets the scenes run and run, letting his characters spout of his trademark dialogue, but with a hint of menace underlying the scene. The scene at the dinner table easily takes up a good twenty minutes of screentime, and for the whole time you are on edge waiting for something that may or may not ever happen. Key to these scenes are DiCaprio (adding another string to his bow in a superb villain role) and Samuel L. Jackson, delivering here what is probably his best performance in years. As the grotesque double act of master and house slave, Stephen, both characters are despicable creatures, extending pleasantries to their guests but you always feel as though hatred and violence are just bubbling beneath the surface. The dinner table scene contains more ammunition, tension and excitement than any of the gunfights.
The ultraviolence, when it arrives, is somewhat at odds with the serious story the film is trying to tell. It’s almost a little too cartoon-y, and in at least this reviewers opinion unnecessary, but adds to the hyper real feel that pervades into most if not all of Tarantino’s cinematic output. This isn’t real life or a documentary; it’s a film and should be treated as such.
At nearly three hours though, the film is far too long, and while there is enjoyment to be had watching the good scenes run and run, there are a few sequence spread throughout that are entirely superfluous, especially the scene with Tarantino himself which smacks of self indulgence. In fact, the film could have been released as two separate films, á la Kill Bill, with a fun, light first film and a more thoughtful, leisurely paced second, which would have given plot points more time to be fleshed out. As it is, it feels slightly two long as one film, but no less enjoyable for it. Foxx is tremendous in the role, going from slave, to apprentice, to badass; Waltz is utterly fantastic as the genial, friendly Schultz; and the cinematography is beautiful to look at.
Review by Jonathan Cardwell.
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