Much like Inglorious Basterds before it, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Django Unchained, is a loosely historical, gleefully cartoonish revenge fantasy.
Set in a hellish approximation of the pre-Civil War American South, it tells the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave liberated by roaming bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who gets to be the good guy here, after playing a right bad bastard in Basterds). Along with Schultz’ moral antipathy towards slavery, Django’s near-supernatural talent for gunslinging ensures that the pair become fast friends, and before long they embark on a quest to rescue Django’s wife from the claws of villainous plantation master Calvin Candie.
Well, maybe saying ‘before long’ there is a little inaccurate. ‘After a protracted series of lengthy monologues, extended dialogue exchanges, and the occasional gunfight’ might be more suitable. This unnecessarily long film is Tarantino in overdrive, and not always for the better. His script contains several wonderful one-liners (it’s hard not to grin when Django shouts ‘I like the way you die, boy!’ as he blasts away his former master), and much of the lengthy dialogue is eloquent and enthralling to watch. A particularly gripping, if insane, scene comes later on, as Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, in pantomime mode) fervently lectures his dinner guests on the concept of phrenology (look it up) whilst bearing a slave’s skull in his blood-soaked left hand and a hammer in his right.
At other moments, however, Tarantino over-indulges himself and loses track of narrative pacing completely. The film takes an extremely long time to introduce its central conflict, as Candie does not appear until the halfway point. Meanwhile, without wanting to spoil anything, the astonishingly bloody climactic gunfight is followed by an unnecessary, tacked-on final 15 minutes of literal overkill.
Despite this prominent flaw, however, the film is undeniably entertaining. The self-consciously naff crash zooms, anachronistic soundtrack (featuring Rick Ross!?) and generous amounts of cartoonish bloodsplatter are all hallmarks of a film that knows it’s having fun, and it’s hard not to be swept along by its gleeful mood. If you have 3 hours to spare, it’s definitely worth a watch.