When he is on top of his game, no one is better than Quentin Tarantino at taking something familiar and making it feel wildly fresh and original. QT has the ability to blow the doors off of a movie theater while simultaneously repulsing and tantalizing audiences.
I say all this mostly as a public service announcement because, brace yourself America, Tarantino’s new film “Django Unchained” is a violent, hilarious, riveting force of nature that also just so happens to be the best movie of the year.
Part spaghetti western, part revenge flick, with just a hint of Blaxploitation and Norse mythology mixed in for good measure “Django Unchained” is a perfect example of Tarantino doing what he does best, which is taking the lowest forms of cinema and elevating them to the grandest heights of the art form.
Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave living just a few years before the beginning of the Civil War. When we first meet Django, he is being led in shackles with a group of fellow slaves across the open countryside.
Django is a quiet character by Tarantino standards and Foxx plays him with a steely coolness that is reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name.
Very quickly after the film opens Django is freed by German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who enlists Django’s help to capture three outlaw brothers that only Django can identify.
Waltz was unknown to American audiences before Tarantino cast him as a villainous Nazi in “Inglorious Basterds,” a performance for the ages that nabbed Waltz an Academy Award.
In Waltz, Tarantino has discovered an actor who can find the poetry and rhythm in his dialogue and then deliver it with a brilliantly unique flair.
It is entirely possible Waltz could snag his second Oscar for his performance as Schultz.
It turns out that Django has a wife gloriously named Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), who was sold away to slimy and sinister plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, who clearly is having a blast playing against type).
Shultz agrees to help Django rescue his wife and the two ride off to Candie’s plantation, where they meet all sorts of deranged folk, including head slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who proves to be every bit as treacherous as Candie.
The whole thing builds to a wild, bloody, explosive finale that leaves virtually no cinematic taboo untouched.
It also wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie without an inspired and eclectic soundtrack which includes some recognizable tunes along with some original songs from musicians ranging from John Legend to legendary spaghetti-western scorer Ennio Morricone.
The first half of this movie is nothing short of a masterpiece as Django and Shultz hunt bounties across the South. Tarantino channels the likes of John Ford and Sergio Leone with lots of sweeping vistas and lonesome sunsets spun through some brilliantly written and acted scenes.
When the movie moves to Candie’s plantation, it becomes darker and uglier, and while it never loses its spark, “Django Unchained” becomes less elegant and more brutish, which essentially serves to prove a larger point.
The film has garnered a fair amount of controversy for Tarantino’s liberal, albeit historically accurate, use of the N-word. But no other movie has ever charged headlong into the actual horrors of American slavery with such wonton abandon as “Django Unchained.”
There’s no sugarcoating our national shame here and this certainly ain’t Terra, where the only indignity the O’Hara slaves endured was the occasional “Fiddle-dee-dee.”
Now, this certainly isn’t a movie for the squeamish or the easily offended, but for those with the stomach and the sensibility to board Mr. Tarantino’s wild ride, take the first opportunity you can to get on board.
“Django Unchained” is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity.