django

Three years ago Quentin Tarantino delivered the high-octane revenge fantasy that was Inglourious Basterds. It was a thrilling piece of revisionist history that saw the gratuitous (yet awesome) assassination of Adolf Hitler. Now, QT swaps Nazi Germany for pre-Civil War Texas to set the stage for a revenge fantasy surrounding slaves and their brutal owners.

Jamie Foxx plays the titular slave who gets freed by a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, always a delight) and embarks on a journey across the south to help his savior track down his former owners and find Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who’s been held captive by a wicked plantation owner named Calvin Candie (a devilish Leonardo DiCaprio in his first real villainous role).

Foxx is welcome player to the Tarantino universe, strutting through most of the film with a quiet rage that explodes in the film’s inevitable climactic bloodbath. He brings a slight 21st century swag to the 19th century role that is only accentuated by a carefully chosen soundtrack that includes the likes of James Brown, 2Pac, and Rick Ross (one of the many things the director excels at: cleverly matching music to his cinematic opuses).

Waltz, on the other hand, supplies most of the dialogue in some parts, relishing in each one of his articulated lines. It’s no surprise that Tarantino wrote the role with him in mind – after playing such a charismatically evil cad in Basterds, why not cast him as a heroic one here? As for DiCaprio, who doesn’t show up until the second half, he’s having a ball, donning a goatee and getting in touch with inner rage monster when his character participates as a spectator in a ruthless and disturbing bloodsport known as “Mandingo fighting.”

It wouldn’t be a Tarantino epic without some cameos peppered throughout such a delirious story. James Remar and Dennis Christopher appear as typical Western baddies. Don Johnson provides such a thick drawl as a character named Big Daddy, you could get stuck in it. Tom Wopat shows up as a U.S. Marshall who’s outsmarted by Schultz. And even the director himself pops in as a miner alongside Michael Parks in one hysterically outlandish chapter. But it’s Jonah Hill (yep, Jonah Hill) who can be spotted in one of Django’s best scenes involving an early formation of the Klu Klux Klan as they huddle around on their horses to go over their plan of attack on our heroes. It’s a brilliant seven-minute farce involving the poor stitchwork on their white hoods.

And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson. Playing Stephen, Candie’s loyal house slave, he’s a welcome sight, spewing out cranky barbs left and right. Needless to say, the N-word is used liberally throughout the entire movie; check your racial sensitivity at the theater doors.

Clearly, with all of the Sergio Leone-style closeups and poetic violence (expect a lot, per usual), Tarantino seems to be showing off the remnants of his homage to the genres that have influenced him as a filmmaker. One can’t help but wonder if there’s anything else that’s left to which he can pay his respects. Whereas Basterds was a tightly wound revenge saga that pulsated with urgency, Django falls a little short in that department. That said, 30 minutes of the film could have been easily shaved off (or chained up — sorry, couldn’t resist), and we’d still be over a 2-hour running time with plenty of savory meat. But which brave soul would be willing to tell that to QT and face the wrath of an auteur with such an astounding track record?

4/5 stars

– Hiko Mitsuzuka (@TheFirstEcho)