Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenwriter: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio
Length: 180 minutes
There’s something about Tarantino films that makes them special. As a kid growing up you
had to know about Pulp Fiction. If you hadn’t seen it, you at least needed to be able to act like you’d seen it. (Until around 15, after which conforming to group notions of cool thankfully became less important).
When I finally watched it – and the scarcely less-heralded, frequently mentioned-with,
similarly well-titled, Reservoir Dogs – I saw why. His scripts were punchier, his characters cooler and his direction more inventive than anyone else. He had this ability to make simple conversations more gripping than most directors needed $100 million in CGI to do. And he could uniquely have his leads tell long, winding, and seemingly irrelevant tales that left the watcher still smiling at their brilliance a scene later.
In many ways, Django Unchained is no departure from that. The film, ludicrously three hours long, somehow never manages to lose you. If you watch Heat, it feels like it’s been three hours. Django doesn’t. It has a pace to it born out of its leads, their chemistry and a script which they, particularly the unparalleled Christoph Waltz, revel in playing with.
Jamie Foxx plays Django, slave of the Deep South turned bounty hunter, alongside Waltz
as Dr Schultz, one-time dentist, full-time contract killer. It is their chemistry which drives the first half of the movie until DiCaprio’s arrival – Schultz, the wise, controlled German with the quick draw and even quicker tongue; Foxx the quiet, magnetic presence. But it’s the small Tarantino touches, rather than its plot, that makes the film so delightful: the close-up of Waltz pouring beers; the immediacy with which death is dealt out; the mad, varying, oversized writing sprawled across the screen announcing each act.
Watching it is a cinematic experience, and a great escape from the sentimental soupiness
of Life of Pi, hagiography of Zero Dark Thirty or conventionality of Lincoln. Tarantino is still uniquely watchable.
But he has changed. Following Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, Django represents his third foray into the farcical and there seems to be no return. He no longer makes films (at least partly) based in reality, like Fiction, Dogs and or his third hit ‘90s film, Jackie Brown.
A Tarantino now is a cartoon flick – highly entertaining, unquestionably watchable and
uniquely engaging, but never brilliant. It enthralls and excites, but it doesn’t move. None of
his characters develop like Samuel L. Jackson does in Pulp Fiction: their journeys are too comical and their backdrop too mythical. Here’s to hoping he returns to the real world: when he does, Django’s evidence there will still be few things like it.