DJANGO UNCHAINED (director/writer: Quentin Tarantino; cinematographer: Robert Richardson; editor: Fred Raskin; music: “Django” theme by Luis Enriquez Bacalov; cast: Jamie Foxx (Django), Christoph Waltz (Dr. King Schultz), Leonardo DiCaprio (Calvin Candie), Kerry Washington (Broomhilda), Samuel L. Jackson (Stephen), Don Johnson (Big Daddy), Walton Goggins (Billy Crash), Jonah Hill (Bag Head No. 2), Quentin Tarantino (Mine Company Employee), Franco Nero (Bar Patron), Bruce Dern (Slave Owner), James Remar (Butch Pooch), Dennis Christopher (Moguy), Laura Cayouette (Lara Candie), Walton Goggins (Billy Crash), Quentin Tarantino (Aussie slave transporter for a mining company/KKK rider), Don Stroud (Sheriff Bill Sharp), Tom Wopat (U.S. Marshall Gill Tatum); Runtime: 165; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Pilar Savone/Stacey Sher/Reginald Hudlin; Weinstein and Company/Columbia Pictures; 2012)

"Effectively tells in Tarantino's excessive style about the evils of slavery."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Quentin Tarantino ("Inglourious Basterds"/"Pulp Fiction"/"Jackie Brown") directs, writes and has two cameos in this hard-hitting, outrageous and playfully serious antebellum exploitation tale, set in 1858, two years before the Civil War. It effectively tells in Tarantino's excessive style about the evils of slavery, America's great sin, and films it like a Sergio Corbucci spaghetti-Western. It's an homage pic to Tarantino' idol, Corbucci, who helmed in 1966 the first Django, that starred Franco Nero--who has a cameo in this film. It's about a badass uppity freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) dishing out bloody pioneer justice to the slave-holders and their criminally savage white overseers, as he's on a mission to free from slavery his tortured German-speaking wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), separated from him with her face branded and her back whipped on the orders of a sadistic plantation owner (Bruce Dern). The plot takes on the German myth of the brave Siegfried rescuing Brunhilde, who was held captive by the powers atop a guarded mountain. After countless twists and much sputtering it climaxes like a hilariously bloody 1970s blaxploitation pic, where it's OK to cheer as the ugliest whites get slain by the cool revengeful former slave. In this feel-good colorful revisionist history film, Django spreads fear among the plantation owners that he will lead a slave rebellion. Anything and everything is tossed into the narrative to show the inhumanity of slavery, the pitiless realities of plantation life for the slave, how violent America is and all the bad karma the country still has in its race relations despite electing a black president. It is this excess that makes its anti-slavery stand memorable and intelligent, but not without questions for the way Tarantino gathers his facts and the violent way he resolves things.

On a deserted Texas trail at night, riding in a wagon with a giant tooth atop it, a German-born dentist-turned-bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), is after the reward money for the three killer Brittle brothers, who are Wanted: Dead or Alive. The eccentric gunslinger Schultz frees the shackled and in rags Django from his current slave-owners by killing them. Schultz then offers Django freedom for his help because he's the only one who can lead him to his bounty. The odd-couple take a liking to each other and go to the Tennessee plantation of Big Daddy (Don Johnson) to successfully kill the Brittle brothers, as we learn that many wanted white criminals from outside the south used aliases and found work as overseers or law men in the south. There's also a Coen brothers like comedy scene, where the KKK are depicted as bigoted morons while going on a raid to get the bounty hunters but have trouble because the bags over their heads don't fit and they can't see.

After spending the winter in the snowy mountains for some shooting practice and bonding, the bounty-hunter partners in the spring go to Greenville, Mississippi, where both Django and his wife were auctioned off to separate plantations. In the town registrar, they find out that Broomhilda has been bought by the sociopath gentleman dandy Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fake man of culture who postures himself as a sophisticated European aristocrat in his vast Candyland plantation in Mississippi. Bored with just raising cotton, Candie trains Mandingo fighters for sale and sporting exhibitions. By offering $12,000 for one of his top fighters the partners scheme to smuggle out Broomhilda, who is being tortured in a sweat box for an attempted escape and is half-dead when rescued. The Uncle Tom house Negro, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), probably the most deplorable and pitiful character in the pic, rules over the other house slaves in managing the Candie household affairs and offers the plantation boss his full loyalty while promoting black on black rivalries. After being diverted for long periods by Tarantino's cheeky dialogue and bombarded by the heavy usage of the "N word" for shock and entertainment purposes, the action picks up when the plan to get Broomhilda turns rocky and the bloodshed gets nasty as Django goes Shaft and the pic rejoices in how tasteless, comical, gory and deafening it can get as it takes on the sobering subject of slavery as a malignant blight on America's soul in a way that surprisingly too few Hollywood films ever do right the few times they use the subject. No one does it in the same provocatively bold manner as the director. Tarantino has the self-confidence and the film-making skills to be unrelenting in his attack on slavery, on the blacks for not rebelling and on white guilt for permitting such a barbaric system. That the pic is offensive and recklessly touches on risky matters such as getting even with past wrongs in a bloody way, is a given in a Tarantino film. The director seemingly has a bad word for almost everyone involved for putting up with such an inexcusable vile institution as slavery. It's a well-acted (in particular Foxx and DiCaprio are solid, Waltz is overwhelming, while the 76-year-old Jackson's performance is unforgettably brilliant and mesmerizing) and well-produced film that offers a quirky hipster history lesson that aims to entertain just as much as be informative, as it crosses the line of good taste in its zest to rewrite American history as a spaghetti-Western.

REVIEWED ON 1/3/2013       GRADE: B

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"