1858, pre-Civil War Texas. While being transported across country with several others, slave Django (Foxx) is freed by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Waltz), in order to help identify a trio of wanted outlaws. After doing so, Schultz agrees to help find and rescue Django’s estranged wife (Washington), a fellow slave who’s currently the property of sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio)…
Another race hate-fuelled revenge thriller, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained functions as a close cousin of sorts to his last picture, Inglourious Basterds. Both take place in a troubled period of history, and both feature Christoph Waltz as a polite-yet-deadly manhunter. More importantly, though, both demonstrate the writer-director’s strengths and weaknesses in similar fashion, as his eagerly-anticipated Western (which could equally be described as a ‘Southern’) also sees great set pieces and flashes of brilliance let down by indulgent tendencies. As always with the controversial filmmaker, more equals less.
An un-complicated story, it doesn’t need to be over two and a half hours long. After a strong opening, the film loses some of its fizz and momentum during its bloated second half, while the last act, in particular, could use a trim. Though largely fun and never boring, the playful vibe stops us from fully embracing the tragic nature of slavery. For example, the sequence where Klu Klux Klan members bitch about not being able to see through their hood eyeholes is so Blazing Saddles-esque that it’s tough to invest in the serious stuff elsewhere.
While it will surprise absolutely no one to learn that QT’s latest includes blood-gushing violence and anecdotal, know-it-all dialogue, Django Unchained is his most linear film to date. No chapters, no fragmented timeline, just a few very brief flashbacks. As for people complaining that the N-word is used excessively (and by people, this means Spike Lee), you can forgive such usage since we’re dealing with a slavery movie set in the Deep South.
As with Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz’s performance is the film’s undoubted highlight. He’s essentially doing a good-guy version of the same thing – a well-spoken, impeccably mannered and slightly eccentric killer – but he’s so enjoyable to watch that this doesn’t matter one iota. It’s interesting to see Leonardo DiCaprio have fun in his first non-lead role since the mid nineties, and Sam Jackson is suitably repulsive as “the world’s most despicable negro” (while looking a little like Yoda), but Jamie Foxx unfortunately feels more like a sidekick than the hero. Essentially a cipher, Foxx is often second (or even third) fiddle, which begs the question of why Waltz has been classified as the supporting actor. Still, it’s great to see Don Johnson again (playing racist plantation owner Big Daddy), as the latest forgotten favourite that Tarantino has chosen to remind us about.
A close cousin of sorts to Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained sees great set pieces, flashes of brilliance and another great performance by Christoph Waltz undermined by indulgent tendencies.