Django Unchained is sadistic and unflinching
Starring Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, and Leonardo DiCaprio. Rated 14A.
Because he’s earned the right, it’s hard to blame Quentin Tarantino for ripping off himself in Django Unchained. The pop culture–obsessed director rolls out plenty of familiar tricks in this bloody and brutal but brilliant blaxploitation western: get ready for molasses-slow 360-degree tracking shots, heavily treated flashback sequences, epic discourses on obscure subject matters, and, most of all, glorious ultraviolence.
Themes of Tarantino’s past works—race relations, revenge, honour, and the unbreakable bonds of love—are seamlessly fused here. We get America’s violent, appallingly racist late-1800s as you’ve never seen them, the story believable despite being populated by a German-speaking black slave named Broomhilda, a European bounty hunter who never uses one word when a telephone book’s worth will do, and emancipated gunslingers who strut around like the pimptastic second coming of Little Boy Blue.
Jamie Foxx stars as Django, who, after being freed from a Texas chain gang, morphs into a man-of-few-words badass determined to find the wife who’s been stolen from him. Guiding the former slave through a world where the good are outnumbered by the bad and ugly is Christoph Waltz, stealing the movie as a charismatic and complex German dentist who has decided that killing criminals for government cash is more lucrative than pulling teeth.
For all its gorgeous attention to detail, Django Unchained is anything but pretty, even when the action shifts to the fetishistically decorated plantations of the Old South. It’s there we get monster performances from Leonardo DiCaprio as vicious but urbane slave owner Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson as a resident Uncle Tom known as Stephen.
Django Unchained is Tarantino at his most sadistic and unflinching, with the N word dropped too often to count and epic gun battles taking his affection for on-screen violence to blood-flooded new levels. The ’70s-obsessed director borrows with impunity here, whether it’s a Blazing Saddles–like lynch mob struggling with malfunctioning white hoods or plantation-slave fights ripped from the script of Mandingo. Mostly, though, Tarantino cribs from himself for this stone-cold instant classic, perhaps understanding that if you’re going to steal, you steal from the best.