‘As entertaining and sharp as the script is, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this is a very, very long film’
Controversy, check. Violence, check. Gloriously over the top set pieces, check. Of course, Quentin Tarantino doesn’t pull many punches when it comes to the shock and awe he tries to convey with the content of his films. Django Unchained is no different. Jamie Foxx plays a slave, freed by Christoph Waltz to assist in bounty hunting and ultimately, in their mutual interests, finding Django’s wife.
Naturally, there is sharp dialogue in abundance. The screenplay lends itself to the ice-cold exterior that Foxx executes to perfection, while the sheer flare and tongue in cheek displayed by Waltz is one of the most entertaining performances in recent memory. This is where the film feels like it’s fulfilling potential. On screen, the dynamism conjured up by Foxx and Waltz is as good a partnership as even John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino again proving that he can find actors and get the best out of them. Whilst these exemplary performances are as engrossing and entertaining as will be seen all year, there is something that holds Django Unchained back from being great.
As entertaining and sharp as the script is, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this is a very, very long film. This is the first film that Tarantino has edited without his late associate Sally Menke, and it really shows. Take the scene with the Ku Klux Klan arguing about their hoods, for example. Whilst yes, it is undoubtedly funny and sharply written, it’s hard to see why it actually has a place in the film. It feels like a rejected Family Guy cut away gag. Menke, surely, would have done the right thing and cut the scene, save it for the DVD, and have a nice little deleted scene for the fans to discover for themselves. Tarantino has no such discipline. Without that external viewpoint on his work, there is no filter and he is free to indulge too heavily in his own personal taste. Not to say indulging in one’s personal taste is a bad thing, but when making a film of this magnitude and cultural relevance (as well as historical significance), it’s important to maintain a rationale that is consistent and meaningful. There are scenes in Django Unchained that just don’t do that.
That said, it’s impossible to escape the fact that Django Unchained is a hugely entertaining film, and certainly an improvement on the much-maligned Death Proof. The action is spectacular, the blood flies very far indeed and the acting alone is highly commendable. Despite the running time and ill-discipline issues, it would be wrong to suggest it wasn’t enjoyable. There’s great potential for a two hour romp here, and maybe then it could be agreed upon as a genuine return to form, but until Tarantino makes that film, it’s difficult to envisage he’ll ever reach the same high as Pulp Fiction.