For me, a Quentin Tarantino movie is like ordering a Ham sandwich in the states.
Here in Australia, you order a Ham sandwich, you get just that – a Ham sandwich.
Order the same thing in the U.S, you’ll get the sandwich plus a side-serve of potato chips (on most occasions).
Tarantino makes his movies to suit the Manhattan sandwich bar crowd – giving punters what they expect plus that little something extra.
Tarantino’s customary side-serve? An everlasting portion of clever chit-chat doused in a hickory sauce of hipness and film-fan fun.
Study any constituent of Tarantino’s back catalogue – “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Jackie Brown”, the two “Kill Bill” volumes, “Inglourious Basterds” – and you’ll find extremely cleverly crafted films made for film-fans by a film-fan (some might argue the biggest film-fan on the planet; Tarantino most certainly knows his stuff). All of the films might fit comfortably into a chosen genre, but it’s the filmmaker’s unmistakable touch that has each title encompassing the ability to don a second genre, too. if you will, Tarantino writes love letters to his favourite genres – the gangster pic, the crime drama, the kung-fu movie – but uses his own style of self-made ink to encapsulate the words.
“Django Unchained” is Tarantino’s ode to the classic American Western. Or Italian Western. Maybe even the Blaxploitation film.
Jamie Foxx, in one of his showiest roles in years, plays the title role, a slave purchased (with some force) by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a kindly, well-spoken bounty hunter masquerading as a travelling-dentist. Schultz, we discover, needs the freed slave to help him find three scoundrel brothers who he has never seen; Django, having witnessed the men beating his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), can I.D the guys.
Django takes to the “killing white man” business rather quickly, becoming Schultz’s partner-in-crime (or law, as it may be), as they get about the majestic countryside (beautiful photography by Robert Richardson) knocking off folks with sizeable bounty’s on their head.
Eventually, Schultz helps lead Django to the slave farm – run by Leonardo Di Caprio’s slickly attired sicko Calvin Candie – that’s holding his wife.
The story is a familiar one – fans of the classic “Django” movies, featuring Franco Nero (who makes a cameo in this film), can tell you that – but it’s the way Tarantino tells it that offers it uniqueness.
All your atypical Tarantino movie elements are at play here – the huge slabs of hip, well-written dialogue (one fixing around some poorly-cut KKK head bags is a highlight); the rather long running time (at 2 hours and 40 minutes, this is Tarantino’s longest film – but not by much); the filmmaker’s love of laughable violence (there’s definitely a lot of blood, but because of the clearly fantastical world that Tarantino’s movies are set in, it doesn’t upset nor perturb – if anything, the violence plays cartoonish); and the array of familiar faces, some who haven’t been seen in anything of note for many years (like Tom Wopat, Don Johnson, Dennis Christopher, Robert Carradine, Lee Horsley, Russ Tamblyn, James Russo) who are paraded out, some giving the finest performance (knowing too well Tarantino’s the king of career resurrections) of their somewhat forgotten careers.
Tarantino gladly reaps all the praise for his films high-rating playability factor, and it’ll be the same case here, but his well-cast acting talent are – as they usually are – as much responsible for the film’s decency. The dialogue and scenes are cool, I can sure as shit say that, but without the excellent performances of Jamie Foxx and, especially, Christoph Waltz (he’ll have you at ” Good cold evening, gentleman! Amongst your inventory, I’ve been led to believe you possess a specimen that I am keen to acquire” – his line-delivery is stupendous!), you can’t imagine it working as well it does – nor, wanting to return to the flick when it hits DVD and/or BD. Everyone in the film, from Di Caprio’s Southern scoundrel to Samuel L.Jackson’s hilariously perfidious aged aide, are rather excellent. When you return to the flick, you’ll be returning to the faces in front of the camera, as much as the man’s dab hand behind it.
Tarantino’s gift for picking music to fill his frames is again on show. Here, he’s picked a ripper assortment of rap (Those who saw ’90s western “Posse” will know Tarantino’s doing nothing original here), country and classical works to add spice to sequences.
If the film has a failing it’s Tarantino’s incapacity to trim the superfluous. The film’s final hour, set within Candie’s mansion, largely around a dinner table, is exceedingly long and slows the pace of the thing way down. At times, you might even find yourself losing a bit of interest. But considering the rest of the film is such a, erm, reward, it’s no big deal having to kill more time with Tarantino than we’d generally prefer.