out of Five
Running time: 165
Django Unchained combines terrific characters, great performances, thrilling violence, twisted humour and Tarantino's trademarked delicious dialogue along with a typically brilliant soundtrack, but it's also a good forty minutes too long and drags considerably in the middle section.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained is inspired by both the Django spaghetti western series starring Franco Nero (who, at 71, contributes an inspired cameo here) and Richard Fleischer's 1975 exploitation flick Mandingo, about a slave trained to fight other slaves. Set in 1858, the film stars Christoph Waltz as German bounty hunter Dr King Schultz, who frees a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) in return for his help in tracking down three outlaw brothers.
Along the way, Django proves to have something of a knack for bounty hunting, so he trains under Schultz and the pair become both friends and partners. And when Django learns that his wife Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) is a slave on a plantation belonging to sadistic owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), he and Schultz set out to rescue her, posing as fight experts interested in Candie's mandingo ring.
As with Inglourious Basterds, Waltz's Germanic delivery and measured manner prove the perfect fit for Tarantino's delicious dialogue and he turns in a terrific performance that is a joy to watch. Foxx is equally good as Django, underplaying it to impressive effect for the majority of the film and striking unexpectedly strong chemistry with Waltz into the bargain. There's also strong support from DiCaprio, who's clearly enjoying himself as Candie, while Samuel L. Jackson steals the entire film with a brilliantly conceived turn as Candie's Uncle Tom-like butler Stephen and there are enjoyable appearances from the likes of Don Johnson (as slave owner Big Daddy) and Tom Wopat (as a Marshall nonplussed by Schultz's attention-grabbing arrival in his one-horse town).
The script crackles with great lines and is packed full of surprises, with moments that will have you both laughing out loud and gasping in shock, often simultaneously. Similarly, as befits the Spaghetti Western pastiche, the violence is deliciously and thrillingly over-the-top, with each gunfight involving explosively gloopy splatterings of blood as well as some impressive feats of sharpshooting.
The main problem with the film is that, at an arse-numbing 165 minutes, it's a good 40 minutes too long and drags considerably in the middle section. In addition, Kerry Washington's part is badly underwritten, so there's no chemistry at all between her and Foxx, while Tarantino's time-honoured atrocious cameo (as an Australian mining company employee, no less) is incredibly jarring and seriously undermines the final act.
A small handful of flaws aside, Django Unchained is a stylishly directed, superbly written and brilliantly acted spaghetti western pastiche that delivers shocks, laughs and thrills in equal measure. Great soundtrack, too, obviously. Highly recommended.