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edge staff writer


Revenge served red-hot Django Unchained'

January 2, 2013
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Tarantino's latest also one of his greatest

In a lot of ways, Quentin Tarantino is the quintessential filmmaker of his generation - he really gives his myriad pop culture influences free range to shape his films. If nothing else, no one out there manages to let his film freak flag fly quite like Tarantino does. He might not be the most technically gifted filmmaker out there, but he might just be the one who is most passionate about movies in general.

That passion is what elevates his films films which could easily have become rehashed exploitative dreck into something so much more. His gift is the ability to put a handful of disparate concepts into a sort of cinematic blender and spit out a silver screen smoothie that not only works, but somehow bears his undeniably unique stamp.

'Django Unchained' is Tarantino's latest. It's his take on yet another of his favorite low-rent genres; it's the spaghetti western this time. Of course, that genre gets a postmodern reimagination through Tarantino's nigh-constant prism of revenge fantasy.

Django (Jamie Foxx, 'Horrible Bosses') is a slave in pre-Civil War Texas. He and his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington, 'A Thousand Words') have been separated and sold after an escape attempt. As Django is being marched to market, Dr. King Schultz (Cristoph Waltz, 'The Three Musketeers') comes upon him. Schultz is a dentist-turned-bounty hunter; he's looking to collect a bounty on three brothers, but he doesn't know what they look like. Said brothers were overseers at Django's former home plantation, so he can identify them.

Schultz (who abhors the institution of slavery) takes Django under his wing as a protg, promising him his freedom after they find the targeted brothers, then following that up by offering to help him find and retrieve his wife.

Before long, Django and Schultz find themselves in the orbit of the cruelly charismatic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, 'J. Edgar'), proprietor of the infamous Candieland Plantation and current owner of Broomhilda. A plan is hatched to extract Broomhilda from the plantation, but Candie and his house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson, 'The Avengers') have nagging suspicions about the true motivations of their guests.

One of the great things about Tarantino is his ability to pull a page from a preexisting playbook and make it entirely his own. He does it again here the spaghetti western formula could have been lifted straight out of Sergio Leone, but Tarantino's unique voice and anachronistic fearlessness create a story that is reverent of the past while still being very much a product of its own era.

Jamie Foxx has never been better, Oscar win notwithstanding. He fills Django with a cold fury that occasionally explodes in violent heat. There is a quiet power to his performance that cannot be denied. Despite the kill-craziness inherent to most Tarantino protagonists, Django is very human that's all Foxx. The always-excellent Waltz hits another home run here as the self-effacing, self-assured Dr. Schultz. It wouldn't be at all surprising if it turned out that Tarantino wrote this part specifically for Waltz; the two seem to understand each other in a way that produces magnificently nuanced performances.

The supporting cast is just as strong, with DiCaprio and Jackson both making themselves contenders for Supporting Actor hardware. DiCaprio is particularly strong; he uses his natural charisma as a weapon, subverting it in a negative way and creating a magnetically reprehensible character. Jackson reins in his bombastic tendencies for the most part, only unleashing them in particularly appropriate (and effective) moments; he has never been this conniving.

Still, this film belongs to Foxx and Waltz. The two of them have appealing chemistry, bringing a vibe that borders on buddy cop territory for a while until the true darkness of the story begins to surge to the forefront.

While I'll admit to being a bit of a fanboy when it comes to Tarantino, there is no denying the fact that he is operating at the peak of his powers right now. Following up the brilliant 'Inglorious Basterds' with this movie just proves it. It's not a perfect movie the film is probably 20-30 minutes longer than it needs to be and there are a few moments where we're reminded of how much Tarantino loves the sound of his own voice but it is a damned good one.

'Django Unchained' is one of the last movies of 2012. It's also one of the best of the lot.

5 out of 5

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