Tarantino’s latest gets a lot right but, unusually for the director, it also gets a lot wrong. Here he tackles the western genre and has said he wanted it to fit into the spaghetti western style but in an American way. Whilst imagining a western done in the style of Quentin Tarantino delivers exactly what we see here, there is also an element of style being prioritised over story; particularly in the length of the film, which starts off very strongly, but soon begins to drag. The Red Dragon is a fan of westerns, but if you ask anyone who doesn’t like them one of the commonest complaints is that they find them boring and tedious, and asides from some over the top gory violence ‘Django Unchained’ isn’t going to do much to change that view for many.
The story follows that of freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) as he and bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) travel the pre-Civil War American Deep South, ultimately in search of Django’s still enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). There are a lot of nice touches, including a lot of jokes at the expense of racist plantation owners, but at one point Django makes an extremely dubious out of character decision, and it’s purely to set up events in the rest of the film. Indeed, anyone familiar with ‘Inglorious Basterds’ (09), which was a fantastic movie, will recognise several nods in its direction, but also very strong similarities with the way tension was created in that film and then released.
With that knowledge everything plays out with an inevitable unoriginality, and it does indeed become quite tedious, to an almost childish degree, with even some of the music jarring badly with the narrative – something for which Tarantino is famous for normally getting completely spot on. Even things like having one of the slave owners suggest that all black people are genetically programmed to be submissive and that Django, being different, is one in ten thousand, and then much later on having the ‘hero’ Django saying something along the lines of ‘you were right about one thing, I am one in ten thousand’, well it kind of has a lot of negative connotations with it, though this is possibly more down to carelessness than anything else. Christoph Watlz and Samuel L. Jackson (in a masterfully Machiavellian role) give the strongest performances.
Upon the release of the film, Tarantino has had to face a bit of a grilling from journalists over its content, and over the very hot debate at the moment surrounding whether or not movie violence has a direct link to several gun related massacres in the States and elsewhere. In the following interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the strain of that is perhaps beginning to tell….