Film review: Django Unchained

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Jamie Foxx (left) stars as a pre-Civil War bounty hunter angling for Candyland plantation owner “Candie” played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. (Publicity image) Jamie Foxx (left) stars as a pre-Civil War bounty hunter angling for Candyland plantation owner “Candie” played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. (Publicity image)

Spaghetti southern: Django Unchained is a lawless, violent romp marked by stellar performances

First, the cynical: One wonders whether making a movie that takes place in the pre-Civil War American South is Quentin Tarantino’s way of getting around criticism for using the n-word. Second, the straight-up: Django Unchained is loads of fun.

For years, I’ve railed against Tarantino. I don’t like his dialogue (all his characters sound the same); I don’t like his derivations from better (and worse) directors; I don’t like his fanboys.

But something in Django Unchained clicks. Maybe it’s because a lot of white, racist, asshole rednecks get the snot killed out of them. Or maybe this cast is Tarantino’s best ever, with delicious (yes, delicious) performances from Christoph Waltz (who may be the greatest acting find of the early 21st century), Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson. Jamie Foxx is an appropriately stoic man-with-no-nameish title character, and the role, by its nature, is less flamboyant than the others.

Waltz and DiCaprio are having so much fun the giddiness is infectious. Tarantino movies seem to invite two things from some actors. Many of them use it to do their best work (see: Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Diane Kruger), and others do their best work while leaving the scenery in tatters (Uma Thurman, Jackson, Waltz, DiCaprio).

Another thing Django Unchained has is a bunch of cameos by really famous people, or long-forgotten actors making a brief, triumphant return. The opening scene alone features James Russo and James Remar, and honestly, is a movie featuring either of those guys in the same scene really going to be bad?

The story takes many twists and turns, but it’s more or less about one man, Django, trying to reunite with his wife (Kerry Washington). All the other stuff that comes along with it—plot twists, tangents, brouhaha—is gravy.

Know this going in: Django is shockingly violent, even for Tarantino. The gunshots are cartoonish and the blood explodes, appropriately for a cartoon, as if the squibs on each body were filled with a half-gallon of fake blood. In fact, the gun wounds explode with a force not seen since Tarantino pal Robert Rodriguez’s movie Planet Terror in their ill-advised double feature Grindhouse.

With all the cartoonery comes realism, though. There are scenes—two men fight brutally to the death; one man is torn apart by dogs—that are gut-churning in their verisimilitude. At the heart of Django Unchained is slavery, after all.

That leads to the other piece of news the movie has generated in the last few weeks. There has been much grousing that Django Unchained encourages violence against white people. Don’t get caught up in that nonsense. It’s hype and butt-hurt masquerading as social criticism. The film is, quite simply, the western according to Tarantino, and if you’ve seen any of the Italian-made westerns that inspired it, you’ll see more than a few nods to them.

Django Unchained is a hoot, even if it’s 30 minutes too long, and may be the escape you need, if your family gives you the gift of driving you nuts for the holidays.

Django Unchained

R, 165 minutes/Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

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