As typical of writer/director Quentin Tarantino, the unnecessarily ugly and regularly interjected violence bears his in-your-face approach. More is more but it’s not as effective as it was 10 years ago. Most unfortunately, the violence detracts from a truly subversive critique of slavery, power, and greed, all lacking humane features. As “Django Unchained” exists, the condemnation is embedded in good storytelling, but I wanted more satirical bite.
The acting drives the film. As Tarantino knows, an affectionate send-up of familiar themes and the 1966 western “Django” benefits from actors who can sell his homage without tongue in cheek performances. As Django, Jamie Foxx, who begins incredulous and cringing, convincingly segues into an overly confident free man enjoying his revenge against cruelty with the full force of his own. Christoph Waltz sustains a charismatic presence as the intelligent, condescending, ruthless bounty hunter, ex-dentist Dr. King Schultz. As in “Inglourious Basterds,” [sic] his pitch perfect delivery combines Schultz’s sly observational powers with a cutthroat commitment to his “job.”
Samuel L. Jackson, nearly unrecognizable behind his makeup, costume, and his nonverbal acting choices, turns in a clever mockery of subservient behavior as Stephen, Candieland’s top house slave. Ruling that plantation as Calvin Candie, Leonardo DiCaprio pushes the envelope right to the edge of excess, but then daintily steps back. As the wife Broomhilde whom Django must reclaim and rescue, Kerry Washington is underused, though she gives her limited scenes energy and appeal.
Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes every composition fabulous with superb lighting. The music is effective without getting in the way of the story. Bold titles, a Tarantino cameo, among others, an overlong film—we’re in Q land with “Django Unchained” and his fans will enjoy the visit.