Stop me if you've heard this one before: the new film from Quentin
Tarantino is stylish, hilarious, violent and has a great soundtrack. It's also
about 20 minutes too long. All those things are true of Django Unchained, but if you're a fan of Tarantino's vision at all,
you're going to have a rockin' good time at the movies this Christmas.
Set, as the titles tell us, two years before the Civil War, dentist
King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, using his magnificent charm for good this time)
frees Django (Jamie Foxx) from two slave runners on the condition that he helps
kill the Brittle Brothers, wanted men on whom Schultz hopes to collect a
bounty. Schultz also promises that after the brothers are killed he'll help
Django rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a plantation.
Django Unchained is
Tarantino's most straightforward story but by no means his leanest. It's packed
with all manner of excess stuff that hampers all his movies. Don't get me wrong"”I
think Tarantino has never made a bad or even just a pretty good film. But Django is typical of Tarantino. Any
chance for excess is relished in: more blood, more costumes, more montages. It
also suffers from occasional tonal inconsistencies. Some scenes it's Blazing Saddles, others it's a bloodier Unforgiven. Still, this movie is gutsy
and entertaining, except for the moments when you have to cover your eyes.
Brutality is never shied away from here, so your mileage may vary. One thing
everyone can agree on, though, is the quartet of fantastic performances from
the men of the movie. (Sadly, Kerry Washington's Broomhilda is not in the mold
of Jackie Brown, The Bride, or even Bridget von Hammersmark.)
Jamie Foxx, freed from prestige pictures like Ray and The Soloist, gets
to use all of his trademark swagger in a role that takes him from timid slave
to stylish hitman to vengeful husband. Christoph Waltz, preferring his wit over
his weapon, again plays a character who acts like the smartest guy in the room
until he isn't. Leonardo DiCaprio is simply terrifying as Calvin Candie, who
owns Broomhilda and keeps her on a plantation he calls Candyland, where the
slaves fight to the death and the women are used and abused. Samuel L. Jackson
plays the head slave at Candyland, who served Calvin's father and his father
before him. It's great to see Jackson in a role he can actually sink his teeth
into. This is the best acting he's done in a decade.
Django Unchained, like the
spaghetti westerns Tarantino idolizes, is a bloated revenge fantasy, made much
more enjoyable by its great humor, music"”by everyone from Ennio Morricone to
Rick Ross"”and performances. For those can appreciate and handle Tarantino,
there's no better choice this holiday season.