Directed by Quentin Tarantino
In Tarantino’s eighth feature, the title's stoic slave (Jamie Foxx) cuts a deal for his freedom, apprentices as a coolly pitiless bounty hunter, and finally sets out to rescue his enslaved wife from a notorious Southern plantation run by a self-proclaimed Francophile with candy-rotted teeth (Leonardo DiCaprio). Told linearly, Django depicts, in the moviegoing-season’s parlance, an exfiltration to Inglourious Basterds’ moving-parts infiltration, and so the new film doesn’t require as absorbingly thorough a revenge-movie rewrite of history as its predecessor did. But despite the smaller scale of Django’s pre–Civil War operation, its collateral body-count also seems much higher. There are so many slo-mo squib-bursts of blood and viscera here that Tarantino seems engaged in a form of action painting, as Django mows down what seems like every single white Southerner less enlightened than his constant buddy-movie companion King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a former-dentist German mercenary endowed with an unusual moral compass, not to mention the gift of gab.
As ever, despite all his clever and arresting applications of movie-movie style, Tarantino’s greatest strength is essentially theatrical: as a writer of sinuously talky building-block scenes. This time out, his best is a plantation dinner-table discussion that meanders from sour pleasantries through a heated amateur-phrenology demo, with the perfectly over-the-top DiCaprio’s loaded questions about slave rebellion calling to mind the tense against-appearances mutiny of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno. But the 165-minute Django Unchained also happens to suffer from a bigger-picture attention deficit, conveying the sense of an epic hastily assembled from incendiary loose ends. However deliberate some of its choices—slave owners and their overseer minions appear as ruthless mutilators, wielding all manner of rusty torture-porn apparatuses; Samuel L. Jackson, delivering dialogue that’s simultaneously amusing and revolting, plays a slave who’s undyingly loyal to his master—the film feels frustratingly idle in its observations on slavery’s ugly-attitude legacy.
Opens December 25