As he did with 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, superstar filmmaker Quentin Tarantino looked to Italy for primary inspiration for his follow-up. In Django Unchained, he’s cribbed the country’s spaghetti Western genre, shoehorned the all-American slavesploitation film into its center, and rewritten another ugly chapter in world history while filtering it all through his Movies Unlimited catalog lens.
Paying homage to the Italian Django franchise birthed in 1966, Tarantino delivers what could serve as the origin story of the bounty hunter, if not for his Civil War-era setting and race-reversal casting. Jamie Foxx (Horrible Bosses) is enormously gratifying as the title character, a shackled slave until his freedom is purchased by Dr. Schultz (a glorious Christoph Waltz, one-upping his Oscar-winning Basterds role).
A German dentist turned bounty hunter, Schultz teaches Django the tricks of the corpse-cashing trade, then agrees to help rescue his protégé’s wife (Kerry Washington, TV’s Scandal) from enslavement. They track her to a plantation owned by the wily Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar), which leads to one of Tarantino’s true specialties: a sequence of confrontation drawn out so long — maybe half an hour — that the tension becomes almost unbearable.
His other hallmarks stand at the ready, too: arch dialogue, shrewd casting, dark humor, a crack soundtrack, a bit of the old ultraviolence and, ultimately, overlength.
But that’s not to say Django Unchained overstays its welcome; its vengeful finale — both of them, one could argue — redeems minor transgressions with a collective punch so purifying, you’d have to be a bigot not to feel it land. —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• A Man Called Django! DVD review
• Django and Sartana's Showdown in the West DVD review
• Django's Cut Price Corpses DVD review
• Django, Kill! (If You Live Shoot!) Blu-ray review
• Django Kills Silently DVD review
• Horrible Bosses Blu-ray review