'Django Unchained' a blood-soaked, sensational revenge epic
Published: Tuesday, December 25, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 21, 2012 at 4:48 p.m.
Oh boy, is there going to be some outrage over this movie.
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy about the pervasive violence and foul language in his movies, but he's reached new heights in his effort to provoke outrage among culture warriors. "Django Unchained" contains scenes of carnage that make the massacre at the end of the first "Kill Bill" look outright tame in comparison, and the language (particularly the liberal use of a certain racial epithet) will make guardians of political correctness blush and faint. But to hell with the outrage: Tarantino's epic Western is a wonderfully stylish, fantastically over-the-top elevation of trash into high art, complete with riveting dialogue and a plethora of stellar performances.
Our setting: The antebellum South, in all its splendor and all its racial ugliness. Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave on a chain gang, seemingly destined for a life of misery until his gang stumbles upon the dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz, who detests slavery, needs Django's help to collect a bounty. To that end, he takes Django under his wing, promising to set him free and help Django find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), once the bounty has been taken care of.
The bounty subplot actually turns out to be a relatively quick task; the bulk of the movie centers on Django's quest to free his wife from the clutches of the debonair yet sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who's aided by his cringingly loyal black servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). However, Tarantino's deeper aim is to have his crusading black hero enact collective vengeance for centuries of slavery by meting out violent justice (often using the same cruel methods whites used on blacks at the time). It's a revenge thrill writ large, perhaps even bolder than having a squad of avenging Jews take on the Nazis in "Inglourious Basterds."
As is always the case with Tarantino films, the genius starts at the script level. Nobody else's dialogue sounds like Tarantino dialogue, and the movie is peppered with memorable one-liners, exchanges and monologues. But the dialogue isn't just Tarantino stroking his ego or showing off his cleverness (though that's certainly part of it); by giving his characters time to talk, and in such colorful verbiage, he fleshes out even the most rote bit players into colorful individuals. There are also several dialogue-driven suspense scenes that echo the best moments from "Basterds."
The best of these suspense sequences occurs late in the movie, when Candie, Django and Schultz are at Candie's plantation (aptly called "Candieland") discussing why the slaves won't rise up against their white oppressors. As Django and Schultz sit in the lion's den, bearing witness to Candie's gaudy lifestyle that slavery enables, Candie slowly turns the conversation in a more menacing direction as Django struggles to maintain composure. It's a masterfully directed and edited sequence, proving Tarantino just as much a master of suspense as Alfred Hitchcock and other cinematic greats.
Tarantino is also known for getting career performances from his actors, and all of the principles in "Django" turn in noteworthy performances. Foxx, who after winning his Oscar for "Ray" has had a hard time finding the spotlight, exudes cold fury as Django, making him a very credible hero. DiCaprio, who has spent the past few years brooding in movies such as "Inception" and "Shutter Island," is a blast to watch as the suave, cultured and yet utterly ruthless Candie. However, the standout is once again Waltz, who follows up his Oscar-winning turn in "Basterds" with another spellbinding outing here. Waltz's carefully measured, mannered cadence is a perfect match for Tarantino's dialogue, and he makes sure we see the conviction and humanity of Schultz; he may be a bounty hunter, but he has a genuine bond with Django and a strong sense of justice.
There's so much more to talk about with this movie: the lavish cinematography, the fantastic production detail, the throwback mariachi score (Django even gets his own theme song) ... but the bottom line is this: If you can stomach the violence and the language, "Django Unchained" is a great movie, a thrill ride that could only come from the deranged, brilliant mind of Tarantino.
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