When Quentin Tarantino is lurking, no genre is safe. After checking crime, kung fu, grindhouse and war movies off his list - not to mention whatever Pulp Fiction was - Quentin Tarantino turns his sights on westerns with Django Unchained. Funny, action-packed and highly entertaining, Django Unchained may not be Tarantino's deepest of films - but it is his most accessible.
In the movie, Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a black slave in pre-Civil War era America who is freed by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). The two form an unlikely partnership to search for Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who has been purchased by evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
In many ways, Django Unchained is your typical western, albeit with a distinct Tarantino spin on things. The movie is sharply written, consistently funny and violent, but the plot is straightforward, the material accessible. Django wants his wife back, so he goes after the man who has her. There are gunfights, plantations and horse riding. It's as simple as that. The only thing really missing is an encounter with Indians.
Some critics may say that Django Unchained is a lesser form of entertainment than, say, Inglourious Basterds, but that doesn't really matter. Django Unchained is explosively fun from beginning to end, and it stands unique among the year's films. While the action is great, the film's color once again comes from Tarantino's screenplay: the most remarkable scene is an extended moment where Django, King and Calvin negotiate a business deal, each unaware of the others' true intentions. It might not match the opening "milk" scene in Inglorious Basterds in terms of weight and suspense, but it comes close.
The actors involved turn in terrific performances. Foxx and Waltz are excellent, but DiCaprio seems to revel in the opportunity to play a villain - especially such a charming one as Calvin Candie. Washington and Samuel L. Jackson are memorable in supporting roles.
There isn't a dull moment in Django Unchained, a rare feat even among the best of films. Quentin Tarantino has done it again, and unlike his past ventures - including his $321-million worldwide grosser Inglourious Basterds - the movie is more mainstream, more accessible. Django Unchained is one of the best movies of the year.
When Quentin Tarantino is lurking, no genre is safe. But Tarantino is always welcome.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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