Review: Django Unchained is Tarantino at his indulgent best
I love Quentin Tarantino films. That isn't exactly a bold statement when you're talking about his universally agreed-upon earlier works like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, but I think it's worth a mention in regards to his recent work. Kill Bill, Death Proof, and Inglourious Basterds all hold a special place in my heart, but they didn't seem to work for everyone.
I mention this because his latest, Django Unchained, could just as easily be called Tarantino Unchained. It is an indulgent, wildly stylized Western that follows in the footsteps of Inglourious Basterds. You wouldn't be crazy to think that Tarantino is cooking up a thematic trilogy here. The intolerance trilogy, perhaps? Comeuppance? The Christoph Waltz trilogy?
Either way there's a thread between the two films in which the oppressed rise up and deal beautifully gruesome catharsis upon those who have it coming. Tarantino takes some of the most classic cinema storylines and twists them into something completely modern. Django works today. Were it only a decade ago it would be politically-corrected to death and a decade before that it may have been banned altogether. Today if you aren't cheering for Django or the Basterds you should probably do more than get out of the theater.
That Django Unchained deals with race in the era of slavery is only one part of the equation, though. This is a loving ode to spaghetti westerns complete with a song by Ennio Morricone and plenty of old school dramatic camera zooms. It isn't afraid to throw in a little hip hop here and there too. At the same time, massive, dialogue-heavy scenes bring together the complete Tarantino package. Django is as much about characters having brilliantly-written discussions as it is about blood-soaked gunfights.
Which brings us back to Christoph Waltz. Once again Waltz delivers a stunning, show-stealing performance as Dr. King Schultz, Django's bounty-hunting partner. Jamie Foxx's Django may be the essence of cool, collected badass, but it's the combination of his silent slickness and Schultz's cunning that make this film what it is. Get the two in the same scene with Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie and you get a potent mix of gripping characters and stunning performances.
At 165 minutes, Django Unchained can be a touch unwieldy. Towards the end the plot meanders a bit more than I'd prefer, with one particular cameo scene feeling entirely unnecessary. At the same time, Django usually takes its time in all the right spots, building tension through Tarantino's verbose dialogue. It could probably use some more editing, but it's hard to trust anyone to trim the fat with this film when so much of the fat is delicious.
As much as Django honors classic cinema it also feels classically modern. In the same film where you get shootouts that result in absurd blood geysers you have slow-paced scenes in which characters simply talk. It is both indulgent and deliberate. It is flashy and philosophical at all the right times. It's cool in a tasteful way that most "cool" films could only dream of.