Fans of Tarantino won’t come away disappointed, but he can do a lot better than this.
Quentin Tarantino continues his new fascination of blending period pieces with grindhouse revenge films in Django Unchained, a movie that fans of Inglourious Basterds will surely enjoy. The setting this time is America several years before the civil war. Slavery is still going strong in the south, and Django (Jamie Foxx) is lucky enough to get freed by King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter who needs him to identify a group of criminals he’s searching for.
Django tells Schultz his story: Him and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) were branded and auctioned off separately after trying to escape a plantation together, and now with his freedom Django hopes to find his wife and buy her freedom as well. Schultz takes a liking to Django and offers him a deal: Train and work as a bounty hunter through the winter, and once the snow melts they’ll go rescue Broomhilda from the evil plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) who owns her.
Tarantino surprisingly goes for a straight linear narrative here rather than breaking his story up into chapters, but the film still feels like it’s broken up into sections. The first hour or so follows Django and Schultz around as they try to collect different bounties. This section is probably the strongest part of Django Unchained, with Waltz doing his Hans Landa routine all over again. Naturally Waltz is a delight to watch, and his pairing with Foxx make the two of them a good team. There are plenty of flourishes here on Tarantino’s part, mainly a subplot involving a plantation owner (Don Johnson), but they’re so entertaining that it’s understandable why Tarantino wanted to keep them in the final cut.
Once DiCaprio finally shows up and the plot to rescue Broomhilda starts to take centre stage, the entertainment factor starts to decrease significantly. Foxx, spending most of his time staying quiet when he doesn’t have to make witty comebacks, barely registers once he’s put in the same room as Waltz or DiCaprio. When DiCaprio’s servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a slave whose dedication to his master makes him end up becoming the film’s big bad, enters the picture it’s hard to even remember Django’s presence in some scenes.
And as Django becomes the sole focus towards the end, the bloated 160 minute runtime starts to show. The climax, taking place after an incredibly bloody shootout that showed Tarantino firing on all cylinders, doesn’t have much power to it. Of course Tarantino is still a terrific writer/director, and Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson are all worthy of awards for their brilliant performances, but Django Unchained doesn’t come close to matching the same level of giddy amazement as Inglourious Basterds. Fans of Tarantino won’t come away disappointed, but he can do a lot better than this.