Quentin Tarantino goes western on audiences with Django Unchained. And his deadpan aim is true, folks.
Clocking in at 165 minutes, the blood-thirsty director penned an immersive script that sees a slick bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) in 1858 America take a slave (Jamie Foxx) under his wing. As they get to know each other riding across the land, Waltz agrees to help Foxx reunite with his true love (Kerry Washington), who’s in servitude to one of the wealthiest cotton land owners (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Mississippi.
That’s pretty much the whole story, even though one would think that with such a long runtime, more would subplots would be injected in. So knowing the simplicity of this tale, the pacing has to be smooth with timely eventful moments (i.e. patent Tarantino violence & dialogue). And there is.
When a six-shooter or shotgun strikes flesh, an eruption of blood is splattered all over the place. And if that wasn’t enough, there are some tough-to-watch fighting and torture sequences that are so “authentic” even the sadistic lovers of Tarantino’s work may be shocked. Still, through all the graphic violence, this leans more towards a playful tone. It’s armed with laughs and a couple of gripping dramatic sequences which are primed with riveting conversations (again, patent Tarantino) between the all-star cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, and Walter Goggins all play exceptional supporting character actors).
Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx work fluently with each other the entire time, and have to, since the camera rarely ever leaves them. Waltz’s demeanor and delivery is top-notch as always, and he’s allowed to show more of his humorous side. Samuel L. Jackson may be doing some of his most inspired work since his last Tarantino outing, as he has a much needed pep in his performance-step, despite playing an old crippled estate manager who assists DiCaprio’s calm, yet arrogant, suave persona.
Amidst all the aforementioned playful spots, and in his own unique way, Tarantino articulates a perspective on slavery and just how harsh it was on a mental level. Use of the N-word is sprayed just as much, if not more, than the bullets that fly in lavish southern mansions and stereotypical small 19th century towns. But the mannerisms and actions of each character (from the stars to the unknown extras) in just about every scene is a subtle social commentary. It’s not always the focus, and the projecting out of the theme isn’t always precise, yet the screenplay does a decent job of placing one in the atmosphere of the time.
The only real knock on this is when the story focuses on Foxx’s agenda with trying to “free” his girl. Shifting from the Waltz and Foxx bounty hunter chronicles to that chapter is a bit slow and off-kilter. Good news is they (filmmakers) maneuver around the rocky terrain and keep you invested in the outcome via all the wielded “weapons” mentioned above.
Overall, Django Unchained is vintage Tarantino. For those needing a cinematic comparison, it’s not as crisp and layered as the good director’s Inglourious Basterds, but it beats the hell out of the True Grit remake – another cinematic western.
Django Unchained is rated R and opens in the Tampa Bay market on Christmas Day.