Fans of writer and director Quentin Tarantino are consistently passionate about the reasons they consider his cinematic style to be as fearless, joyful, contextual and intrinsically thoughtful as anyone else making films these days.
While he could easily write a primer on the joy of filmmaking, Tarantino has always had his share of detractors, who vehemently admonish him for his use of violence and the controversial vernacular that often peppers his screenplays.
Love him or hate him, Tarantino’s latest offering, “Django Unchained,” provides moviegoers with a source for spirited debate as he recalls the genres of the 1970s, blacksploitation pictures and spaghetti westerns by directors including Sergio Corbucci (“Django,”) Sergio Leone (Eastwood’s “Dollars” trilogy) and others.
In the film, set two years before the beginning of the Civil War, German-born dentist turned bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) acquires a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), and enlists his help in tracking down a trio of murderous brothers who carry a lucrative price on their heads.
In exchange for identifying the Brittle Brothers, King promises Django his freedom, but after completing their task, the two decide to join forces and take their bounty-hunting skills on the road as they make their way across the unwelcoming territory of the Deep South hunting down a particularly despicable passel of wanted criminals.
Having forged a tight bond, Django eventually confides to King that he is determined to find the plantation where his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) was sold via slave trade years earlier.
On board for the challenge of such a risky venture, King agrees to begin the search for Django’s beloved. That leads them to the Candyland plantation, where ruthless plantation and slave owner Calvin Candee (Leonardo DiCaprio) is in the revolting practice of grooming slaves to fight each other for sport and death.
Surreptitiously gaining an audience with Calvin, King presents himself as a wealthy investor interested in paying an exorbitant price for one of the Candyland fighters. Intrigued by greed, Calvin invites King (and Django) to his plantation, and the ruse to rescue Broomhilda is set into action.
Upon their arrival, the bounty hunting duo are met with suspicion by Calvin’s longtime house slave, the remarkably cruel Stephen (played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson), who begins to uncover some inconsistencies in King’s story. As Django and King’s elaborate scheme begins to unravel, they opt for an improvisational plan that leads to a series of deadly consequences.
As hard-hitting as it is entertaining, the film benefits from Tarantino’s exquisite timing, spectacular visuals and a cleverly crafted script. They all prove to showcase superb characterizations provided by the lead ensemble as well as several surprising cameo performances.
Tarantino’s talent for meticulously compiled soundtracks is also in full force here as he presents an eclectic mix of music from various eras, including familiar instrumental compositions by Sergio Leone’s frequent collaborator, composer Ennio Morricone.
Expect Tarantino and his script to receive lots of attention during awards season. While it’s likely to be a crowded race this year, DiCaprio, Waltz and Jackson are all viable candidates in the best supporting actor category. And whether it’s recognized or not, “Django Unchained” is among the best pictures of the year.