Tarantino’s south Western is one of the most talked about movies of the year, already amassing five Oscar nominations. But early promise leads to disappointment in this pseudo-Western.
In Django Unchained, the subversive director gives us a clever take on the Spaghetti Western - a genre loaded with motifs that he masterfully unpicks. This film has Tarantino stamped all over it - bloody outbursts, an eclectic soundtrack and dialogue laden scenes - yet Tarantino also breaks from tradition in a straightforward, linear narrative.
In return for his help finding the murderous Brittle brothers, German bounty hunter Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) frees slave Django (Jamie Foxx). Waltz brings a lightness of touch to this mischievous role, with a sense of humour and kindness that holds Django Unchained together from the outset. As Schultz teaches Django his bounty hunting craft, the pair fly in the face of socially accepted norms in a sharp and witty examination of slavery that frequently bulges with comedy.
But the film’s second act feels almost like a different movie. Django and Schultz set out on a mission to free Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from the clutches of tyrannical plantation owner, Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio). As Django poses as a Mandingo scout, Tarantino’s brave film tackles the horrors of slavery head on and Django squirms with discomfort in a role that’s abhorrent to him. Unfortunately, Tarantino unleashes the heavy dialogue and the pace slows to a crawl. The promised masterpiece starts to feel overlong and self-indulgent - there are only so many times an audience needs to see Django make a sly, contemptuous reach for his gun.
In spite of this, Django Unchained is bolstered by the strength of its performances. The disturbing duo of DiCaprio’s vain and hateful Candy, and his conspiring servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), make even the slowest moments of Django Unchained well worth watching.
As the film lurches towards its conclusion, Tarantino misses an opportunity to underline the hopelessness of Django’s situation. Instead the film mutates once more, tumbling into a predictable revenge story, accompanied by a senseless bloodbath that jars with the power of the film’s earlier violent severity.
In Django Unchained, Tarantino excels in dissecting the Spaghetti Western genre and takes a fiercely witty look at the horrors of slavery, but can’t seem to avoid the temptations of extravagant bloodletting.
Running Time: 165 minutes