As the credits rolled on Scorsese’s latest, I did something I don’t believe I have ever done before in the cinema. I winked at the screen. Winked. It was a completely involuntary reaction to what is essentially three hours of splendidly naughty fun. I bloody loved it.
Leonardo DiCaprio is in his element here – giving one of his best performances as Wall Street bigwig Jordan Belfort whose life Scorsese has captured in all its excessive, sexist and utterly grotesque glory. He’s a bit like a cartoon baddie, blasting his way through the film with his tail on fire, leaving a trail of dirty doings behind him, entirely unrepentant. He’s a bad man, surrounded by other bad men and some quite bad women too. They’re all having a ball, especially Belfort’s closest ally Donnie Azoff, (an also superb Jonah Hill) a man who can’t believe the way his life has turned out and fully intends to make the most of it while it lasts. Both actors deserve all the plaudits they’ve been receiving – they go all out here, but stay just the right side of caricature. Which is no mean feat, given that much of the film is out and out comedy.
DiCaprio and Hill steal the film, but there’s also a blistering Matthew McConaughey cameo, the divine Jean Dujardin pops up as a smarmy Swiss banker and there’s a slightly bizarre appearance from Joanna Lumley in a London straight off a 60s postcard. There are other women here too of course, who look nice but are somewhere on the outskirts of the story. Nothing here to match Lorraine Bracco or Sharon Stone’s gutsy roles, the women really are just eye candy. But that’s Belfort’s world, am not sure it is unavoidable – and this is based on his autobiography of course, so you know, it’s all about him and his idealised memories of the high life.
Belfort made his fortune by selling penny shares to people who couldn’t really afford them, his morals left in the box he cleared his Wall Street desk with on Black Monday. As his wealth and business grow, so did his ego – so much so that he failed to cover his back until it’s too late. But even when he’s down he’s not entirely out – there’s no crime doesn’t pay moral here, it clearly does sometimes.
But don’t misjudge Scorsese, he knows a thing or two about giving his audience a kick in the guts, and it comes here too right at the end in a scene on the subway with the FBI agent that finally nailed Belfort (a beautifully calm performance from Kyle Chandler). Of everything I saw over the three hours, this was the scene that stayed with me and prompted a sudden prick of tears. It’s that moment of truth that makes this such a great film – a jolting reminder of the people who paid for whatever Belfort stuck up his nose (or up a hooker’s bottom… imagine the casting call for that role).
So yes, I winked at the end. And a great big salacious wink it was too, this is a balls out, wave your willy about joy.
Have a look at that trailer and tell me you don’t feel a little rush of excitement. All Tarantino’s films arrive with a high sense of expectation, but nothing has given me that little shiver of anticipation since Jackie Brown – I was beginning to think he’d shot his load. But no. Django Unchained is a blistering return to what I like to think of as very good Tarantino. As opposed to not that good or actually quite pants Tarantino. This is him with his head back and howling with laughter, running buck naked through a cactus field then mooning a bus full of nuns. It’s Tarantino remembering what he does well, and doing it. Well.
He arrived at our screening shouting and whooping, fresh from shutting Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s butt down, and barracked everyone for being a little too reserved. It didn’t take long for the audience to warm up – this is a long film at not far short of three hours, but it starts with a bang and keeps going at a pace most directors would find hard to sustain.
Jamie Foxx is Django, a slave given his freedom by bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) so that he can help track down three wanted men. It’s another astonishing performance from Waltz, perfectly balancing charm and dignity with ruthlessness. The relationship between the two men is cast like a beam of light against the background of slavery – Shultz is a good man, albeit a little trigger happy, and Django a willing partner if it means he can finally track down his wife, the beautiful Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). She’s been sold to wealthy landowner Calvin Candie, a man who is as comfortable taking a black woman as his mistress as he is setting the dogs on a slave he has no more use for. DiCaprio is surprisingly good, giving Candie the sort of charm that only the truly evil can carry off (imagine Margaret Thatcher offering you a jelly baby). But Django Unchained‘s baddest baddie is Stephen, Candie’s house slave (an almost unrecognisable Samuel L Jackson, unlucky to miss out on an oscar nod) whose family have served the Candies for years and whose loyalty betrays his roots in the most miserable of ways. All the performances are top notch, there’s a real sense that not only are these actors at the top of their game, but they are having a really good time while they’re up there.
It’s violent, yes. But no more so than plenty of other films that have come in for a lot less hand-wringing (I’m looking at you, Seven Psychopaths). And it’s not entirely perfect, the biggest bum note for sure is Tarantino’s Australian accent – he really needs to get over the urge to try out that acting lark. Ultimately though, this is a blast, it’ll send you home with a sense of exhilaration and delight that the old boy has got his mojo back. As Candie says in the film, he’s had our curiosity for a while but now Tarantino really does have our attention.