Susan Granger’s review of “Django Unchained” (The Weinstein Company/Sony)
Violence-obsessed writer/director Quentin Tarantino (“Inglorious Basterds,” “Kill Bill”) pays tribute to the Spaghetti Western genre with this action-packed, blaxploitation/revenge fantasy.
Set in the South two years before the Civil War, this is the story of Django (Jamie Foxx) – the “D” is silent – who partners up with a genteel, yet ruthless, German-born dentist/bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), an expert at psychological gamesmanship. Their first order of business is to kill three murderous Brittle brothers and claim the hefty reward. After spending a winter honing his gunslinger skills, emancipated Django is determined to find and rescue his enslaved wife, incongruously named Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). Sold at auction in Greenville, Mississippi, she’s owned by smarmy, smooth-talking Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio); her job is to pleasure Mandingo fighters at Calvin’s disreputable Candyland plantation. While Schultz concocts a clever scheme, their motives are discovered by skeptical Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s complicit slave/confidante.
Predictably, the cruelty is brutal and shameful, as are the racial epithets. But what’s surprising is how absurdly comedic the anecdotal, character-driven script is, particularly when a Klan raid turns into a Mel Brooks routine, as riders argue about not being able to see through ill-fitting hoods.
Quentin Tarantino named Django after a coffin-toting Sergio Corbucci character played by Franco Nero, who appears briefly. Supporting players include Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, Russ Tamblyn, Tom Wopat, Michael Parks and Bruce Dern. Idiosyncratic Tarantino appears in two cameos: one with Jonah Hill as a Klan member and the second with an Australian accent. Filming took place at Melody Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, a familiar location for Westerns, like “High Noon” and “Gunsmoke,” which was once owned by cowboy star Gene Autry.
Insofar as historical authenticity goes, several prominent scholars, including Howard University’s Edna Greene Medford, have disputed the existence of Mandingo fighting (bare-knuckle death matches between brawny slaves) as an economically unfeasible sport for slave-owners.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Django Unchained” is an indulgent, excessive 8 – Tarantino at his bloody best.