Reviewer's Rating: ★★★1/2
The profusely bloody, over-the-top Django Unchained is its writer-director’s spaghetti western of the American South.
Quentin Tarantino, never one to shy away from on-screen violence, profane language and audacious storytelling, has an even bigger field day than usual with his ingenious new character, Django.
The so-right-for-the-part Jamie Foxx plays Django, a brutalized slave in the antebellum South who, in a stunning turn of events, is freed by a slick-talking dentist-turned-bounty hunter. Thus a mythological character is born, as striking as any maverick anti-hero emblazoned upon celluloid by Clint Eastwood.
Just as Dr. King Schultz, a German-born, slavery-hating bounty hunter, sets Django free, Tarantino’s Django Unchained script sets him free to indulge his filmmaker’s spaghetti western-fired imagination. It’s a wanton, righteous ride into the heart of darkness, Tarantino-style.
Tarantino is one of those auteurs whose name draws A-list actors as well as previous Tarantino players to a project. Some of his veterans do extremely entertaining work in Django Unchained.
Christoph Waltz, an Oscar winner for his performance as a cool and relentless Nazi colonel in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, plays Schultz. This ex-dentist is a good guy or, at least in the brutal Django Unchained scheme of things, he trends that way.
Despite his late arrival in the story, Samuel L. Jackson, who unforgettably appeared in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and later Jackie Brown, steals the Django Unchained show as Stephen, the wily, intensely devoted-to-his-master slave who runs the big house on Mississippi’s Candyland Plantation.
Deeper in the cast, New Orleans-based actress Laura Cayouette, whose filmography contains Tarantino projects Kill Bill: Volume 2 and Hell Ride, plays Southern belle Lara Lee, beloved big sister to Candyland’s cruel master, Calvin Candie.
Django’s raw, wild ride begins in 1858, some years before the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the passing of the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For comedic and action purposes, the movie makes much of Django’s sudden and, shocking to all who witness it, elevation to free man of color. Foxx, focusing Django’s eyes on a long-sought and hard-fought prize, takes his ex-slave on a mission to the razor’s edge.
Foxx, Waltz, Jackson and their co-star, the explosively dynamic Leonardo DiCaprio as the villainous Candie, have a grand thespian romp with Tarantino’s bold, Technicolor-worthy characters. A legendary music lover, Tarantino has, probably more than any well-known contemporary screenwriter, an exacting ear for language and dialect. His imagination and skill in crafting conversation for his actors is fluent, masterful and, maybe best of all, unrestrained.
Lasting two hours and 46 minutes, Django Unchained detours to a faux finale that includes a principal character acting uncharacteristically. The film sags as the story takes this new turn but soon rebounds with true Tarantino panache. The movie is an untamed blast of stylishly rendered, outrageous entertainment.
As usual, too, for Tarantino, the director assembles a rich musical score, including nods to classic blaxploitation soundtracks and the film scores of Ennio Morricone, the Italian maestro who composed music for that unholy trio of Eastwood-Sergio Leone classics, A Fistful of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.
The film gets more help in realizing the director’s vision through apropos locations. The Evergreen Plantation in Edgard, which includes 22 slave cabins, and Jackson Hole, Wyo., especially, give the movie its atmosphere and period look.