After creating his own genre with “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” Quentin Tarantino has spent the majority of his filmmaking career since making all sorts of genre films that he grew up on, with “Kill Bill,” “Death Proof” and “Inglorious Basterds.” Tarantino is at it again, tackling the spaghetti Western with “Django Unchained.”
Django (Jamie Foxx) is a quiet, angry man. Separated from his wife after they try to flee the plantation they live on, he’s left walking in shackles towards whatever person wants to purchase him when Dr. King Schultz, a dentist turned bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) frees him. Django’s saving grace is he knows the Brittle brothers, three men Schultz wants to collect the bounty on. In exchange for helping Schultz, Django is taught the tools of the bounty hunter trade, which mainly involves killing people, and together they will rescue Django’s wife from Calvin Candie, a large plantation owner.
As Candie, Leonardo DiCaprio channels all of his charisma into making the character one of the most despicable Tarantino has ever created. The man is rotten to the core. Even his teeth are black. Candie is every bit as charming as Christoph Waltz’s Hans Landa in “Inglorious Basterds,” but lacks almost all of the viciousness, which is left to his house slave Stephen (a brilliant Samuel L. Jackson). He’s an amazing villain, but Tarantino uses him all wrong. “Django” itself really slows down once Candie appears, as Schultz and Django go from hunting down people to sitting around tables, negotiating with the man to get Django’s wife back.
Jamie Foxx’s Django is cut from the mold of the classic Western gunslinger, almost too much so. Django is very much a blank slate on his first appearance, and as the film continues he becomes more fleshed out, but there just isn’t much to him except that he wants his wife back.
The real treat is Christoph Waltz, who won an Oscar for his performance in “Basterds.” Tarantino may have (moreso than Jackson) found his muse, the Robert DeNiro to his Martin Scorcese. Nobody delivers Tarantino’s dialogue with the perfect mix of charm and irony like Waltz. Every film Tarantino has made since “Kill Bill” has been very aware that its a movie, and Waltz, who is from Austria, has the perfect voice and mannerisms to personify Tarantino’s style.
“Django” has a lot of things going for it, but it’s not one of Tarantino’s finest. It’s definitely one of his bloodiest films, but at 165 minutes, its bloated and loses entirely too much momentum as things go on. Even Candie, the main villain, doesn’t appear until maybe 90 minutes into the film. Not to mention the ridiculously excessive use of the n-word, which is uttered at least 300 times. Tarantino may be trying to be authentic to the time period, but at some point it just becomes too much. In fairness, every Tarantino film I’ve seen since “Kill Bill” has felt overlong and self-indulgent on the first viewing, so “Django” may be much better on a second viewing for me.
It’s been fun seeing Quentin Tarantino provide his own spin on classic movie genres and making them his own. With “Basterds” and “Django,” it feels like he’s entering a new phase of his career, where he is purely a genre filmmaker. Hopefully he’ll try and do something entirely new and give the world another “Pulp Fiction,” but that’s probably just wishful thinking on my part.