Writer/director Quentin Tarantino ventured into the realms of history in 2009 when he reinvented the timeline with Inglourious Basterds. His latest outing toys with the history books as well, and this time it is 19th century slavery which has been given the Tarantino treatment in Django Unchained.
The stylish film follows the eponymous slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and his journey as a bounty hunter with Dr Schultz (Christoph Waltz) as he heads to a slave plantation to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington). The pair cross vast Wild West vistas encountering all manner of grotesque villains as part of Django and Schulz’s bloody quest, all stylised with distinctive Tarantino-esque visual flair.
In true Western style, the gunfights are fast and bloody, and Tarantino brings to the table his love of martial arts and grindhouse exploitation films, making Django Unchained not for the faint of heart. The cinematography is slick and slow motion is used for maximum effect in just the right moments, topped off with a wonderfully punchy soundtrack.
The Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction director is in full Tarantino dialogue mode here, with words crackling with energy and wit. However, visuals and writing aside, Django proves that Tarantino is one of the best directors of actors out there. Waltz steals the show with his performance as the German bounty hunter, and his Academy Award nomination more than acknowledges this. Leonardo DiCaprio plays the chilling owner of the plantation that Django’s wife is enslaved at, and this is clearly a role he is reveling in. It is not often we get to see DiCaprio make the most of meaty villainous roles like this, and this is the next in a line of films including Inception and Shutter Island that have seen him really mature as an actor.
Although Foxx puts on an excellent performance as slave-turned-bounty hunter Django, he suffers from an underwritten role. In this respect, Tarantino seems to have almost dug himself into a hole by homaging 70s’ ‘blaxploitation’ movies, as the lack of development of lead characters is usually made up for by the colourful scene-stealing supporting characters. This is certainly true of DiCaprio and Waltz, as they easily outshine Foxx in the scenes in which they share with him. Tarantino tries to make up for the lack of depth in the character with sheer visual style, but as beautiful as the film is it fails to compensate for the waste of Foxx’s talent.
Tarantino may stretch his love of actors too far in Django, however, as the moment he appears on screen is the moment the film begins to unravel. His bizarre Australian accent is part of a scene which is completely shoehorned in as an example of his own self-indulgence. In fact, the whole film could have ended much sooner than it did. Undeniably Tarantino loves cinema and this comes across in his work, but maybe he loves it a little too much as it seems he does not know when to stop.
With stunning vistas and performances that leap off the screen, Django Unchained is let down by it being 45 minutes too long. Despite its flaws, it is a sharp, visually impressive epic western. While some audiences may not take lightly to the vast overuse of racial slurs and stereotypes, it can be taken with a pinch of salt. For those wanting a typical Tarantino flick of guns, gore and laugh-out-loud dialogue, look no further than Django Unchained.