by Jase Howell
"Django Unchained" is director Quentin Tarantino's latest stab at making a genre film with his own distinctive style.
This time around it is the spaghetti western, and Tarantino succeeds. Like everything he has directed, you would have to be blind not to notice his patented style all over this film. The overthe- top blood-letting mixed with the clever and at times absurd banter we have come to expect from Tarantino is tied together with some interesting soundtrack choices. In short, if you're a fan of Tarantino's work, you'll most likely be happy; if you're not, don't expect anything to change.
We can see early on the grand stage Tarantino is setting for Django (Jamie Foxx). We first find our protagonist in Texas, where the slave bearing scars from the whips of slave owners is freed from a chain gang by Dr. King Shultz (Christopher Waltz), a German ex- dentist/bounty hunter. Shultz is searching for a trio of nasty sorts, and Django once worked on their plantation. Shultz sees possibilities for Django to work as a bounty hunter - he is a sure shot and has no problems with violence, noting "Getting paid to kill white people. What's not to like?"
It isn't long until Schultz has taken a keen interest Django's past and his search to find his wife, Broomhilda (Kelly Washington), who was sold to different traders. They track her to Mississippi, and in true Tarantino fashion a loud overture and bold letters announce this chapter of the flick. Much of the epic tricks of Tarantino's trade will be recognized from his "Kill Bill" films. This saga isn't split into two parts, but is still quite the epic, clocking in at just under three hours.
In Mississippi the two bounty hunters encounter "Candieland," the plantation owned by one Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio in a brilliantly demented role). Mr. Candie is not above rape or having his vicious dogs tear slaves apart, and is a big fan of mandingo (a fight to the death between two slaves). Broomhilda is indeed there, however, and Schultz develops a vengeful plot based on Django's expertise as a mandingo fighter and Schultz's desire to purchase such a slave.
If I have to tell you that the violence is severe in a Tarantino film, you've not seen one before. Despite some criticism of the film, considering the setting is 1858 Mississippi makes this story plausible; and Django's hatred of the slave owner is needed to fuel the violent revenge scenario the film sets up for itself.
Unlike some of his past works "Django Unchained" is not predicated strictly on dialogue. There are some great performances starting with Foxx, who perfects an Eastwood-style man-withno name character and is quite skilled at playing the cool-ascan- be bounty hunter. DiCaprio could conceivably get some Oscar admiration for his sadistic slave owner portrayal, which he nails perfectly. Samuel L. Jackson, a Tarantino staple, has a good turn as Candie's head servant who has a terrible hatred of people of his own color. Tarantino even managed to dig up Don Johnson, who has a solid and humorous turn as a plantation owner enjoying the spoils of the south. But the best performance may once again belong to Christopher Waltz, who shine so brightly in Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds." Waltz delivers much of the humor in the film, as well as the wisdom, to add the levity to the horrors of the slave trade, He and Foxx work brilliantly against each other.
"Django Unchained" is not Tarantino's best film, but a sterling addition to his library; but at just under three hours the director certainly could have left a little more on the cutting room floor. We know pretty much where everything here is going and it may not have needed to be dragged out quite so long. But this still one very entertaining western, and one of the better films this year.