Movie review: Django Unchained

By
From the December 20, 2012 edition

You can always tell a Quentin Tarantino film is a Quentin Tarantino film. You just can’t always tell exactly what you’re going to get.

I mean, you know you’ll get punchy, pulpy dialogue that drips off actors’ tongues. You know you’ll get violence used as punctuation. But you never quite know where that guy is going to take his stories.

And going along for the ride on a Tarantino film? Well, that’s one of my favorite experiences as a moviegoer. Ever.

QT’s latest film is another seemingly simple genre pic on the surface, but then I thought “Inglourious Basterds” was just going to be a pulpy WWII movie with Brad Pitt killin’ “Nat-zis.” Instead, we got a layered revenge pic that was richer than expected.

“Django Unchained” is, at its simplest, Tarantino’s Western (even though it’s set in the pre-Civil War South). There’s a bit more to it than that, but just roll with it.

Freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) forms an unlikely (but mutually beneficial) partnership with German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). In exchange for his help in collecting some high-priced bounties, Schultz will help Django find his wife.

Disclaimer: I’m an unabashed Tarantino fanboy. I’m aware of his shortcomings, but dammit if I don’t have more fun in his movies than almost any others.

This is vintage Quentin. His actors have a blast with all that chewy dialogue. There’s some of his most gleefully ridiculous violence this side of the Crazy 88 battle in “Kill Bill.” It’s his funniest movie ever. And, I’m sorry, but nobody wrings more dripping tension from the “Mexican standoff” than Tarantino.

Oh, and for someone already criticized for his use of the “N-word” in films, you can imagine that Deep South setting leads to a record number of usages. And there is, of course, lots of racial politics in a movie about a vengeful former slave.

Foxx is badass as hell, all cool restraint and killer one-liners.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s evil plantation owner is also worth the buzz. Watching Leo go all smarmy is delightful for someone who hasn’t explored his inner villain much.

But I’ll give the standout acting award to Waltz’s methodical bounty hunter. His “Basterds” baddie stole that film, but his altruism here shows it’s actually more fun to root for him than against him.

The charged subject matter coupled with a lot of bloody gun violence — comically over-the-top but also potentially extra tough to stomach now — make this an obvious “not for all audiences” holiday movie.

But for Tarantino fans, it’s no lump of coal. “Django” Claus is coming to town.