Quentin Tarantino doesn’t take any risks with Django Unchained, the newest in his particular brand of exploitation flicks – yet another revenge narrative peppered with an immaculately crafted visual style and anachronistic soundtrack.
Ostensibly a Western, Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave freed by German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) who sets out to free his wife from a Mississippi slave owner. There isn’t much more of a plot to speak of, and the film is filled with Tarantino’s usual standout scenes, each one lovingly crafted and effectively a short film in its own right.
Despite having second billing, it’s really Waltz that carries the film. Django’s transformation from subservient slave to kick-arse angel of retribution doesn’t feel very organic at all, whilst a scene that hints at the moral ambiguity required in the bounty hunter profession disappointingly ends before it has even begun. All the bit players get their chance to chew scenery, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Samuel L. Jackson and Don Johnson, and as you’d expect, they’re all sadistic, nasty examples of masculinity taken to extremes.
The film looks fantastic. With Tarantino, you know that every single shot has been immaculately visualised before production began, and this is to his credit. Unsurprisingly, the film is also way too long, with a runtime of 165 minutes. This may be par for the course with Tarantino, but in this case, I could actually pinpoint the section that could have been excised in order to bring the film down to a reasonable length.
The fact that the film is exploiting the history of slavery in the USA in order to make a triumphantly violent movie is no more controversial than Inglourious Basterds‘ exploitation of Nazi atrocities during World War II. It may seem strange that Tarantino manages to get away with telling such potentially provocative stories, but the fact of the matter is that slave owners and Nazis are easy targets for a revenge movie – the audience will have a hatred of them before the film has even started, so the filmmaker’s job of encouraging us to revel in their killing is that much easier. Dead Snow (Død snø) pulled a similar trick with its Nazi zombies, though was of course aiming for an almost slapstick tone.
My point isn’t to criticise Tarantino per se, but simply to point out that he last two films aren’t quite as outrageous as they appear on the surface. Tarantino’s movies all ooze style but more importantly, it’s always apparent that he’s having fun with his medium. As with Inglourious Basterds, I did enjoy Django Unchained, however don’t feel the need to watch the film more than once. Those who enjoyed Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds will no doubt enjoy this flick also.Rating: