Violence, choice language and revenge are as important to Quentin Tarantino’s movies as Europe is to David Cameron or as the topic of the weather is to Derry taxi men.
Tarantino’s latest offering, ‘Django Unchained’, has all three and then some but alas it’s not as frivolously entertaining as his previous film, ‘Inglorious Basterds’.
‘Django Unchained’ abounds in some outstanding scenes, wholesome colour and is armed with some strong performances but at just under three hours long it sometimes feels like an homage to past Tarantino glories.
To call ‘Django Unchained’ a Western wouldn’t be doing Tarantino or his film justice, as other film critics have said, it’s more of a Southern.
Set just a couple of years before the American Civil War, Tarantino’s film opens with a chain gang of slaves being led by slave drivers across some of the most unforgiving terrain when, out of the dark, they are met by Dr. King Schultz (Waltz - ‘Inglorious Basterds’ and ‘Carnage’).
Schultz is a bounty hunter and is searching for the Brittle brothers but there’s a big problem; he has no idea what they look like and the only person who does is black slave, Django (Foxx - ‘Any Given Sunday’ and ‘Ray’).
After an action packed exchange with the two slave drivers, Schultz and Django are on their way.
Django agrees to help Schultz track the brothers down and Schultz agrees to grant Django his freedom when they do.
After tracking the brothers down, Django and Schultz agree to go into the bounty hunting business together but when Schultz learns that not only does Django have a wife but a German speaking wife by the name of Broomhilda, he offers to help Django find her.
Spectacular violence and gripping dialogue are all present and correct, as you would expect, but it’s as if Tarantino hasn’t been able to move on from the style and substance that made him a household name with the likes of ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992), ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994) and ‘Jackie Brown (1997).
Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ screenplay is without doubt top notch but it hasn’t a patch on the genius writing that created such memorable scenes as the ‘Royal with Cheese’ exchange between Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in ‘Pulp Fiction’ or the underground bar massacre in ‘Inglorious Basterds’.
Some critics have lambasted the film for its violence and its unapologetic use of the word ‘nigger’ but they are both perfectly justified.
Pre civil war America was a violent, sinister and grim place where black slaves were seen as worse than sub-human.
Christophe Waltz is enigmatic as the German dentist-cum-bounty hunter but his appetite for blowing peoples’ brains out is inconsistent whilst it’s a credible performance it’s pales into insignificance when compared to his portrayal of Jew hunter Col. Hans Landa in ‘Inglorious Basterds’.
Foxx is credible as Django and whilst his physical presence is indisputable he is too softly spoken.
Facial communication is certainly Foxx’s forte and there are several scenes where he lets his eyes, nose and lips do the talking for him - and it works a treat.
DiCaprio is outstanding as charismatic, eccentric and altogether vicious plantation owner Calvin Candie whilst Samuel L. Jackson is delightfully charming as Candie’s submissive house slave Stephen.
Tarantino’s trademark in all of his movies is his humour. It’s his penchant for hilariously dark writing that makes the audience stick with Django and Schultz for nigh on three hours.
There’s a scene about a third of the way through when a group of about two dozen white men, pull on white masks and prepare to kill Django and Schultz. The scene is laugh out loud funny but Tarantino uses it to depict the absurdity of racism and pokes fun at the group who would go on to become known as the Ku-Klux-Klan.
There’s still some life left in the old dog yet.
VERDICT: 3/5 - It sometimes feels like an homage to Tarantino’s past glories. All the reasons why his films are adored and pored over by countless fans are all present and correct but there’s nothing new to make ‘Django Unchained’ feel different to any of his previous offerings. Strong acting performances from Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L.Jackson are pleasing but the real winner is still Tarantino’s talent for hilariously dark comedy. Tarantino still has it but just about...