Django-UnchainedThere’s a fun game to be played at each new Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s called How Many Nods Can You Identify? You know, those little tropes that Tarantino employs to give fans of the genre something to nudge each other in the ribs about. In this, his love letter to the spaghetti western with a blaxploitation post-script, we have a rather old school Columbia logo, Corbucci style fonts, wide shots of men on horseback riding through canyons that zoom in very suddenly indeed, a soundtrack including Ennio Morricone. The bingo card quickly fills up.

The time is 1858, two years prior to the Civil War rather than two minutes to seven o’clock. Jamie Foxx plays the titular Django, a slave freed from his chains by German dentist-cum-bounty-hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) for his ability to identify a band of criminal brothers with a price on their heads. After dispatching these ne’er-do-wells, Django reveals his desire to rescue his slave wife from the clutches of evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). By this point, our dentist is rather taken by Django’s bounty hunting prowess and the fact that Mrs Django speaks German only cements Schultz’s resolve to help out.

There’s another trope in Tarantino movies and that’s of unexpected cameos doing surprisingly good turns that make you think, “Oh yeah, I wondered what had happened to so-and-so.” The so-and-so this time is Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame and … em … well, Miami Vice fame and he fills the boots as different-from-DiCaprio evil plantation owner Big Daddy rather splendidly.

The leading actors couldn’t be better. Foxx’s quiet smoldering is a perfect counterpoint to the delicious eloquence of Christoph Waltz who is, as you’d expect, rather excellent as Dr. Schultz. I dare say the role was written with him in mind, particularly with the whole German thing mentioned above. It’s difficult, though, to watch his performance and not think there are similarities to another Christoph Waltz performance. Swap his 19th century snake oil garb for a Nazi uniform and his mannerisms and knowing could’ve been in Inglorious Basterds. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I don’t think, but it somewhat accentuates the similarities of role and character that inhabit the Tarantino universe. Is Tarantino’s spaghetti western so different from his war movie? And is that so different from his kung fu movie?

The downside of the acting talent, as per usual in most Tarantino flicks, is Tarantino himself. This time round, he really excels himself in a bad way by inexplicably attempting an Australian accent. And by being a bit fat. Thankfully, unlike his gut, his role is a small one although it did leave me with a continuity question. Would there really be Aussie accents in the South in the 19th Century? Really?

Going into the film, I was aware of its reputation for excessive violence and I have to say, for the first couple of hours I was a little confused. Yes, there’s plenty of blood and guts during these opening 120 minutes but it wasn’t anything I’d describe as excessive or noteworthy. And then the last forty-five minutes happened. Throughout, however, the violence is mostly comic book and there’s enough wonderful black humour, even in the bloodiest moments, to keep it from being a bleak affair. Perhaps it strayed too far into misplaced farce territory, but the scene with a cameo from Jonah Hill and Ku Klux Klan members having wardrobe malfunctions was hilarious.

Along with lots of profanity, bursts of violence, an outstanding soundtrack and incredible dialogue, another guarantee you get from a Tarantino movie is that it’s going to be too long. In this regard, he definitely doesn’t disappoint. The initial set-up where Django and Schultz kill the evil brothers caters for the first forty minutes or so and spending forty minutes on something you then discover isn’t even the main thrust of the movie is a bigger disappointment than learning QT has an acting credit. There is also no shortage of slow motion establishing or build up shots.  While most of these were very pretty, it was hard not to think yes, I appreciate this, but can we now get back to the story, I’ve got a home to go to.

There’s a final box in Tarantino Bingo. Did I enjoy it? Yes, of course I did. Downsides notwithstanding, and of the other movies I’ve seen recently that have tickled three hours, this is the one that’s sparked most conversation. It didn’t perhaps feel like it was the shortest but it delivered the best entertainment. Consider the boxes ticked. House!

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