In Quentin Tarantino's latest revenge fantasy Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx plays the titular slave who is freed from bondage by the eccentric Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to become his partner in bounty hunting. As much as Django likes his new job of “killing white folks for money”, his bigger yen is to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the plantation where she serves the childlike but intangibly dangerous Calvin Candi (Leonardo DiCaprio).
While a great deal of Django Unchained is very enjoyable, it is self-indulgent to a fault. I understand that criticizing a Tarantino film for being indulgent is like criticizing the sky for being blue, but the excesses of this movie really makes you feel the length of it. At 165 minutes, it's a picture as badly in need of a trim as our unshackled, unshaven ex-slave is at the beginning of it.
The loud, over-the-top liberties Tarantino takes also drown out its pointed commentary. Somewhere in that verbose, action-packed screenplay is a barbed critique of a particularly dark chapter of American history (the ramifications of which permeate through to modern society), but it struggles to be heard amidst the gunfire and blood splatter – which, by the way, are outstandingly realized by sound editor Wylie Stateman.
Mind you, if this is what you love about Tarantino, Django Unchained has a lot for you to relish. Being his love letter to the spaghetti Western (although it bears even closer resemblance to the Blaxploitation flics of the 70s), there's enough gore and gunpowder here to make Sam Peckinpah himself nod with approval, as there are striking images captured by Robert Richardson's dynamic camera to make Sergio Leone proud.
As always with this enfant terrible, the affectations of Tarantino's dialogue allow actors opportunities they would rarely get on other films. Leonardo DiCaprio stands out as the ruthless cotton king, allowing his malicious venom to simmer beneath a slightly fey surface before bursting forth in one absolutely terrifying bravura scene. Samuel L. Jackson also gives a great turn as Candi's black-hating butler Stephen, walking the fine line between comic panache and sly nastiness.
Not everyone makes good. Christoph Waltz, while funny as the dentist-turned-bounty-hunter, basically delivers a carbon copy of his Oscar-winning performance as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. And Kerry Washington's acting talents are wasted here on a McGuffin role that gives her little to do but suffer or look enticing.
All in all, Django Unchained is an audacious, long-winded payback saga that sends mixed messages but at least manages to entertain.
**1/2 out of ****