Eight directorial outings into his filmography, Quentin Tarantino has become his own genre. Riffing on gangster films, Asian cinema, war flicks, and with Django Unchained, the Western. The Western is perhaps the most sacred film to most Americans as its inception unfolded in the U.S. It seems fitting that Tarantino should try to rip the band-aid off of America's great shame in a Western.
With all of that said, all the anxiety punctuated by talk of race is swept aside quickly and efficiently. This is not a dissection of slavery, it is a tale of the lengths one man will go to save his wife. Django (Jamie Foxx, exemplifying the words on Jules Winnfield's wallet) is freed by a German bounty hunter on the hunt for the Brittle Brothers.
Only Django has seen these men's faces and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) offers him a deal: help him find the brothers and he will help Django find Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Schultz teaches Django the tools of the trade and he picks it up quickly.
To Django's horror, Schultz informs him that Broomhilda is being by none other than Calvin Candie.
Calvin Candie (a despicably entertaining Leonardo DiCaprio) is the proprietor of Cleopatra Club, a place of refinement, where slaves are forced to beat each other to death or be killed. Candie is a boy who was never told he couldn't have sweets, now, that has led to lurid activities brought to the forefront for his endless amusement. The term schadenfreude may have been invented specifically for him.
If Django is to get her back, he and Schultz will have to avoid the watchful eye of Candie's servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson).
Casting has always been a specialty for Tarantino, yet this may be his finest lineup to date. From the great pairings of Foxx/Waltz and DiCaprio/Jackson all the way down to character actors like Don Johnson and Walton Goggins. Everything is aces. There were those who were skeptical of Foxx's casting originally, but he has the charisma to pull this off. Similarly, DiCaprio playing a vicious slave-owner could have resulted in career suicide, yet his devilish turn succeeds.
A film like this could only have been handled by Mr. Tarantino. All of his films involve a knowing wink at the audience and while that worked with revisionist history in Inglourious Basterds, covering race in such a bold manner could raise more viewer's dander. Django Unchained could have very quickly become crass, with such a non-reverent take on a divisive subject, but the riveting dialogue and superb performances from the three leads guarantee entertainment throughout the picture.
Tarantino doesn't have the same across-the-board respect as a director like Martin Scorsese, but the genuine enthusiasm for cinema is there in spades. Westerns have been slowly dying over the last decade, but Django is a staple of what the genre has to offer. Tarantino knows each beat and every flow down to the final showdown. This will be one of the pictures that cements his legacy.
***1/2 out of ****