By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Django Unchained is Tarantino unrestrained.
That proves to be both a strength and a weakness in this racial-exploitation epic from writer-director Quentin Tarantino that wears its too-much-ness like a badge of honor.
It’s set in the South two years before the Civil War, and combines the spaghetti western and the revenge melodrama into one big cinematic cocktail with equal parts dialogorrhea and ultraviolence.
Inspired by the 1966 western Django, starring Franco Nero (who gets the expected cameo), and nodding in the direction of 1975’s exploitative Mandingo, Tarantino’s “southern” takes on slave owners in the same outraged and outrageous ways that his Inglourious Basterds took on Nazis.
Jamie Foxx stars in the title role as a vengeful slave in the antebellum South who is freed from his vicious owners at an auction by loquacious German-born dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, who needs Django’s help tracking down the murderous brothers who represent his bounty.
Kerry Washington plays Django’s wife, Broomhilda, the captive of sociopathic Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, for whom Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen, protector of the status quo, works as the chief house slave.
Less concerned with historical accuracy than richly deserved comeuppance, Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2 , Jackie Brown) uses his audience’s familiarity with genre items as an action-comedy wrapper in which to insert a well-intentioned history corrective.
Foxx is curiously passive in his mostly reactive role, getting lost in the film’s midsection, and Waltz is entertainingly if relentlessly discursive throughout.
But the performance that jumps off the screen and transcends the excesses of the script -– never worse than during the intentionally cartoonish blood-spilling of the climax — is that of DiCaprio in his first villain role and first supporting assignment in well over a decade.
His malevolent Candie is a delicious mixture of charm and smarm.
Never for a moment is Django Unchained boring despite its north-of-2½-hours running time. And it’s exuberant, funny, stimulating, and cathartic. But it also gives the N-word an extravagant workout, and is overstuffed, undisciplined, and wildly self-indulgent with film-geek esoterica.
So we’ll take the bad with the good as Tarantino plays to his fans as if he knows they’ll instantly forgive him his over-the-top trespasses.
Which is why we’ll free 2½ stars out of 4 for Quentin Tarantino’s scattershot juggling of slavery, violence, and humor, Django Unchained. In Tarantino’s world, revenge is a dish best served piping hot and manic impressive.