Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Django Unchained

A crackly, scratched, faux-retro studio ident. A stonking title song found underneath one of the most obscure sofa cushions of cinema history. Credits which include Samuel L Jackson and an actor to whom nobody's given a second thought in the last twenty years. Could you be watching a Quentin Tarantino film?
As the purloined theme from 1966's Django fades out and you recover from the shock of seeing Don Johnson's name on a cinema screen, Christoph Waltz trundles into view atop a carriage adorned with a ridiculous giant tooth on a spring and almost immediately starts spouting Tarantino's knowingly hyper-real dialogue, and all feels right with the world. I'm not QT's biggest fan, but being around to see his films in cinemas for the first time feels like a privilege. They're proof that auteurs still exist in mainstream cinema, and listening to Waltz gleefully wrap his Austrian vowels around Tarantino's words provides as much of a buzz as watching the Hulk punch Thor in the face.

An hour later, and Django Unchained has already booked its place in every Best Of 2013 list: as the titular unshackled slave, Jamie Foxx - resplendent in a literally incredible suit - conveys years of brutal servitude in his eyes alone; geysers of spurting blood ensure that the violence remains hilariously over the top; and Samuel L Jackson is about to put in a very serious bid for a Supporting Actor Oscar with his repulsive, obsequious head butler Stephen. Think a potty-mouthed Mr Carson from Downton Abbey invested with a soul-rotting hatred for everyone in the world (including himself) and you're still only half way there.
But Jackson's entrance in the film also means we've arrived at Candieland, Leonardo DiCaprio's plantation, which is to Django Unchained what Emily Blunt's farm is to Looper. Unable to maintain the pace of the film's blistering first half, Tarantino over-indulges his ego by forcing us to spend a near-interminable stretch of time watching DiCaprio pantomime his way through a script which has gone from cutthroat-sharp to lumpy and leaden with disappointing swiftness. It's this section which could so easily have been filleted to cut down the daft 165-minute running time; it's also that which lets you know, once again, that you're watching the work of a flawed genius. When the climax finally arrives in an explosive storm of blood and bullets it's welcome relief from the preceding tedium, but not enough to make you forget it.

Had Tarantino split Django Unchained into two films, as Harvey Weinstein's wallet would have liked, we'd have been looking at a near-replica of Kill Bill in terms of pacing: a confident, ballsy Part 1 and an indulgent, rambling Part 2. As it is we get both in one extra-long compendium. So while the first half will make you want to wet yourself with joy, if you can hold it in till you get to Candieland there's ample opportunity for a bog break then.

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