Writer and director Quentin Tarantino enters new territory with Django Unchained, a part exploitation, part Spaghetti Western romp about slavery in the antebellum South. That’s not to say that Django Unchained is any less a Tarantino film than, say, Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction were, as it includes many of his memorable traits (explicit violence and quick-cut editing) and boasts a revenge motif as intrinsic to the narrative as any other.
Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, a former dentist turned bounty hunter, buys the freedom of slave Django (Jamie Foxx), in return for his help in finding three outlaws. Now equals, Dr. King Schultz recruits Django as his deputy and offers to aid him in his efforts to rescue his enslaved wife (Kerry Washington, sadly underused) from sadistic plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
Django Unchained is an out and out unadulterated revenge fantasy, a film that bears little accuracy to reality, aside from the odd flashback when we’re sharply reminded of the horrors black people faced before the constitutional amendment was passed, and is all the better for it. The script, written by Tarantino himself, is undemanding and off-the-cuff, mostly due to the fact its rooted in the crazed, erratic visions and actions of its central characters, the powerhouse team of Dr. King Schultz and Django.
It’s far too long (much of the second half could have easily been trimmed with nothing being lost) and sketchy to have the desired, one-two punch effect, yet Tarantino gleefully interrupts those intermittent lulls with vivid violence, wonderfully anarchic comedy and frenetic secondary characters (Samuel L. Jackson is excellent as Calvin’s despicable slave Stephen) that serves as a distinct reminder of the kind of film the audience are watching.
Waltz anchors the film as Dr. King Schultz, cherishing with bravura every last deranged and witty word and dentistry-related quip that rolls off his tongue with all the bravura and ease one of a pro, while Foxx delivers a fierce performance as a man obsessed with exacting revenge on his wives captors. It’s DiCaprio who emerges the surprise winner here though, proving himself to be a more than able foil – one with a menacing panache and strong liking for sweet foods.
It’s indulgent (a cameo from an Australian-accented Tarantino himself proves to be unamusing and out-of-place), overlong and somewhat falls short of expectations, yet Django Unchained succeeds in its unapologetic indifference to these points. It’s energetic, absurdly violent and, best of all, wickedly funny (a Blazing Saddles-style gag is the only real misfire) with an excellent soundtrack – more often that not the exact kind of film Tarantino lovers have come to expect.