Quentin Tarantino is a wildly uneven director. Forget about film-to-film, the amount of success in one scene in a Tarantino film can be completely the opposite of the amount of success in the previous scene. This unevenness disappeared for Inglourious Basterdsand I was hopeful that this would continue onto his next film. However, Django Unchained continues Tarantino’s unevenness. Django Unchained is a tale of two films. One is one of the best buddy cop films ever made while the other is a lame and overlong revenge tale.
Django Unchained is the story of Django (played by Jamie Foxx), a slave who is freed by a bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz (played by Christoph Waltz). Dr. Schultz agrees to help Django find his lost wife (played by Kerry Washington) if he helps him with his bounty hunting business for the season. The film is directed and written by Quentin Tarantino.
Quentin Tarantino is one of cinema’s most original voices (despite being known for taking parts of other films and incorporating them into his) and when he really finds his groove, there are few directors that can top him. However, he rarely ever does find his groove. That groove can be found in the first half of this film though as he creates a fun but leisurely pace surrounding two interesting characters (Django and Dr. Schultz). All of this comes along with numerous homages and an interesting style. However, somewhere in the middle of the film something goes wrong. Tarantino (as he tends to do) takes himself a little too seriously as he brings the film into a more contained setting filled with monologues that think they are important when in fact they offer very little in substance. This all leads to a disappointing conclusion where we get an over-the-top ending to the characters’ journeys. This is not the fun, history-altering over-the-top ending of Inglourious Basterds but one that gets so obnoxious that there is a certain glorified cameo featuring an “actor” using one of the most horrendous accents to ever appear onscreen.
As always Tarantino is able to get himself an interesting cast. Jamie Foxx proves himself to be a sturdy lead. His performance goes up and down depending on how good the material is that surrounds him, but he’s a solid lead to the almost constant chaos surrounding him. Best in show in the film is Christoph Waltz as Django’s mentor. It’s becoming clear that Waltz was born to deliver Tarantino’s dialogue. So while this is not a Hans Landa-caliber performance it, at the very least, cements this as the best director-actor combo since Scorsese and De Niro. Also quite good is Samuel L. Jackson as a head slave at the plantation the second half of the film takes place at, who gets a lot more to work with than the promotional campaign for the film would suggest. Lagging behind is Leonardo DiCaprio as the villainous slave owner Calvin Candie. It’s a solid performance but all the Oscar attention is just because he is playing a villain (an unmemorable one at that). Kerry Washington was very good in her small screentime.
Overlong and self-indulgent, Django Unchainedis one of Quentin Tarantino’s lesser films.