Entertaining but typical Quentin Tarantino!
The ‘D’ in the titular character’s name maybe silent, but there’s nothing low-key in director Quentin Tarantino‘s new show piece feature. Whether or not the flaws of his previous films are at the forefront of your thinking going into this; with the one major criticism of Tarantino’s work in the past having been his inability to cut his movies to a more streamlined package, the very fact that his self-penned Western is pushing 160 minutes long may have alarm bells ringing beforehand.
With that in mind, his last outing Inglorious Basterds, somehow got the right tone of showcasing how an oppressive force treats and interacts with its social minors in awkward tense set pieces – all whilst the chaos of Tarantino’s vision plays out. There’s a kind of uncomfortable synergy here too, in that previously you had a German occupied France in the second world war, now we have a 19th century America at the height of its exploitation of slavery. Set in 1850’s Texas, self-proclaimed bounty hunter Dr Shultz (played by Christoph Waltz) acquires the services of down-and-out slave Django (played by Jamie Foxx) to help track down three brothers. Django’s side of the deal means the partnership formulate a plan to rescue his wife from rich plantation owner Calvin Candie, (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), from this point all trouble ensues.
To say it’s very Tarantino-heavy is a huge understatement, even to the most hardened fans of his, all the traits of his work are still here in abundance. You’ve got the violence and the blood – and we mean violence with a capital V. Character tension, the classic soundtrack and a fantastic appearance from his ever-present lucky charm Samuel L Jackson, as Candie’s loyal aged butler, who basically steals the show and becomes the best thing in it. However, for the first time in quiet a while, this seems to be Tarantino’s first attempt at trying to distance himself away from his movie-fan filled psyche and produce a piece that does all it can to put the subject matter at the heart of the movie. And that subject matter runs all the way throughout. Just the very detail of clinking chains, the torturous treatment and the hardship of the slavery lifestyle is captured brilliantly, but more importantly, shockingly.
None more so than the conventional Tarantino opening scene, whilst plunging you into the slavery world, introducing us to Christolph Waltz as a man who always feels in control of every situation, with his sophisticated Dr Shultz. Waltz walks the line throughout of a trusting articulate gentleman, whilst at the same time having this underlying broiling dark side of a man who could snap at the click of a finger; a look of a man who could kill with a heartened smile. Whilst he plays the performance that we all know he has in his grasp, the main surprise is that of Leonardo DiCaprio with his horrible slavery-owning businessman Candie. Avoiding chewing the scenery, you can tell DiCaprio enjoys acting evil whilst knowing he down right hates the character he’s playing himself, as any other actor would. But it’s as though he’s allowed freedom to really go to town with it and it pays off really well.
Whilst all that is going on, and there is fantastic supporting cast to admire, the main character himself is oddly sidelined in the form of Jamie Foxx. Now that’s not to undermine his performance, charismatic and cool as it is, but it’s certainly a case of everyone around him is firing on all the high notes that his Django oddly gets overlooked. In some aspects, you may look at this as though the people in charge who orchestrate the slave trade are just as overtly over-the-top as our down to earth hero is somehow overshadowed. Having said that, he perfectly wears the years of scars and trauma his character has gone through, evolving as a character as he witnesses the horror of the subject play out around him – and building his character’s persona from slave to gun slinging hero.
Unfortunately, it pains me to say it once again about a Tarantino movie: It is indeed too long! It’s no secret that there is a great two-hour movie in here, and once again he’s decided to add more for his own personal pleasure to his work than there needs to be. Just as you’re expecting a moment of reconciliation, or a moment where the director decides to stand up and deliver a hard-hitting message about the horrors and injustice of slavery, he decides to throw it all out the window and goes back to being the typical Quentin Tarantino. Almost to the point that when we get the Quentin cameo, you feel the movie should have ended well before now.
It turns out to be a Tarantino movie, that involves slavery, rather than him deciding to remove the troubles of his directorial stamp from all over it. Supporting cast are indeed the main draw, getting the best out of all the acting with set pieces and underlying tension ever-present throughout. For the flaws (mainly with the final edit), there’s still an abundance to love and admire while still showing the strong quality Tarantino can produce and is more importantly, greatly entertaining.