Movie review: Django Unchained doesn't hold back

05:00 AM, Dec 25, 2012

Jamie Foxx, left, and Leonardo DiCaprio star in the film Django Unchained. (Andrew Cooper/THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY)/

Written By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett Chief Film Critic

The name of the movie is Django Unchained, but for all practical purposes it might as well be called Tarantino Unleashed.

Whatever you like or hate, or like and hate, about Quentin Tarantino’s movies, is in full display here. It’s long (too long) and bloody, profane and gleeful, with movie genre references stuffed so tightly into each scene they practically spill out onto the theater floor.

Restraint is not Tarantino’s strong suit. Entertainment is, and Django has plenty of that.

It’s a buddy film, a slavery epic, a revenge fantasy and a spaghetti Western, for starters. If that sounds like it’s all too much, it is, really. But it’s packaged as such a loving tribute to film, it’s impossible not to enjoy it. We first meet Django (Jamie Foxx) as he is trudging across Texas, chained to other slaves. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) arrives and buys Django, then frees him. It turns out Schultz has given up his dentistry practice for something more lucrative: He’s a bounty hunter.

And he thinks Django should be one, too. It doesn’t take a lot of convincing. Kill white people? And get paid for it? He’s in.

The first hour or so is a buddy movie and a funny one, as Schultz teaches Django the tools of the trade. He’s a genius with a gun, which comes in handy.

Then the two travel to Mississippi, in hopes of freeing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), Django’s wife who was bought and separated from him. She was bought by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), owner of Candieland, his plantation where he hosts bloody fights between slaves, among other things.

There are many things to like about Django. Foxx is tremendous; as Django, he plays his role so well we begin to question if even he knows where to draw the line. Waltz, who won an Oscar for his work in Inglourious Basterds, may recite Tarantino’s cleverer-than-thou dialogue better than anyone. DiCaprio, unflinching in his depiction of sadism, is effective. And Samuel L. Jackson plays a scheming house slave at Candieland with enormous relish.

And yet I’m not sure it all comes to much. If it’s meant as a meditation on the evils of slavery, well, most meditations aren’t conducted at heavy-metal volume. Tarantino definitely means to show us, not just tell us, how horrific the practice was.

Django Unchained is a really good movie that thinks it’s a great one. Tarantino, capable of the latter, should know the difference.