3 and 1/2 out of 4 stars
In the two decades since his first feature ("Reservoir Dogs"), writer/director Quentin Tarantino has gone from art-house bad-boy to respected auteur without sacrificing a lick of his rebel spirit or angular perspective while always increasing his commercial appeal. His most amazing feat is that he takes the blueprints of what most consider B-grade cinema (martial arts, revenge, grind house, blaxploitation, etc.) and turns them into highly regarded epics.
Determined to never repeat himself, Tarantino also seems intent on working in every one of those B-genres before he's through and with "Django Unchained," he can now cross spaghetti western off his "to do" list. Even though it contains all of the requisite spaghetti western ingredients, "Django" is at its heart a complex and deeply emotional (for him anyway) anti-slavery cause movie and love story. Tarantino has never been or will ever likely be this socially opinionated or aware again.
Set two years before the start of the Civil War, "Django" starts in the same manner as the first act of "Inglourious Basterds" with Christoph Waltz (as Dr. King Schultz) again delivering what is basically an uninterrupted 15 minute monologue. Using the same affected cadence and scads of Tarantino's carefully penned $10 words, we're pretty sure Waltz is going to be the antagonist once more and Tarantino's "never repeating himself" thing seems endangered.
A dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Schultz travels the south ferreting out fugitives -- most of whom are murderers. He offers two slave traders a handsome fee for Django (Jamie Foxx), one of the few people who can correctly identify three wanted brothers. The deal doesn't go as planned but Schultz gets what he came for and Django (though he doesn't know it yet) is now a free man.
After Django's quick and brutal disposal of two of the brothers, Schultz recognizes he's found himself a kindred spirit and makes Django a deal. In exchange for a 60/40 split of their future profits, Schultz will locate Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), Django's wife who was sold to Alabama plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Realizing that "killing white men and getting paid for it" is appealing on a number of different levels, Django quickly agrees.
Ever since "Pulp Fiction" where the "N" word was dropped dozens of times -- and in other films since then -- Tarantino has been accused by many of being a racist. Whether he truly is or not is debatable and, because the "N" word is even more prevalent in "Django," those accusations are likely to only escalate. What Tarantino's detractors might want to consider is that the "N" word was commonplace in the 19th century South and the dialogue is a correct reflection of those times. They might also want to take into account that Tarantino's character in "Pulp" was very much in love and married to a black woman. Just something to think about ...
In what has become another Tarantino trademark, he has cast this film with many performers against their usual type, in this case Lithia Springs' own Walton Goggins, Samuel L. Jackson and DiCaprio, who couldn't be more slimy and loathsome. Much the same can be said for Don Johnson as another plantation owner who, despite looking a little too much like KFC founder "Colonel" Harland Sanders, turns in a cameo that is probably the finest work of his career.
Because of the time frame, Tarantino wisely avoids his penchant for obscure pop-culture referencing and replaces it with mostly gallows humor. It's always very funny, but some of Tarantino's younger fans might have trouble catching the gist, rhythm and accent-heavy dialects.
Also regularly accused of being too violent (which is understandable if not entirely true) Tarantino stays authentic to the 19th century South by drenching "Django" in blood. Not since "Kill Bill, Vol.1" has Tarantino been this graphic and not since "The Wild Bunch" has a western gotten so close to NC-17 territory. Even grizzled fans of westerns might look away when reacting to the sizable amount of visual splatter and the accompanying auditory splash. Simply put, if violence upsets you in the least, don't even consider seeing this film.
The only drawback with "Django" -- and it is nearly a deal-killer -- is the 165 minute running length. Just when you think "Django" has said what it needs to it goes on for another half hour with at least two false endings and the hint of a sequel. It's not the greatest way to wrap up an otherwise spectacular motion picture, but that's how it sometimes goes. Even geniuses have their off days. (Weinstein)