THE REEL: Quentin Tarantino is at it again with ‘Django,’ but who’s complaining?

Ben Conniff

 In his latest Spaghetti Western-esque saga, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” tells the story of a 19th-century slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) who is freed by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter. Dr. Schultz takes Django under his wing and teaches him how to become a bounty hunter himself.

Together, the unlikely duo sets out to rescue Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Like so many of Tarantino’s other works, “Django” is stuffed with colorful characters, peculiar use of music and special effects, moments of side-splitting humor, unique cinematography, over-the-top violence, and lines that are destined to become classics like Foxx’s “D-J-A-N-G-O. The D is silent.” Driven by a solid plot, all the classic Tarantino elements mold into place to make “Django Unchained” one of the director’s best efforts yet.

As far as acting performances, the cast, for the most part, is spot-on. Foxx reminds us once again that he can truly act, as he turns in a riveting performance as our hero Django. Christoph Waltz is always a pleasure to watch. He lends a smart, backhanded humor and a dimension of mystery to Dr. Schultz that makes the film more entertaining and his character one to root for.

DiCaprio is also pitch-perfect as Candie. His character walks a fine line between maintaining his façade as a respectable Southern gentleman and being a brutal slave owner. DiCaprio nails this balance right on the head, and makes Candie one of the most truly sinister villains of the year and also the most fun to watch.

My only gripe is that Washington doesn’t get nearly the amount of dialogue she deserves. She’s a beautiful, talented actress, and in a nearly three-hour run time, she hardly has any lines. They might as well have cast an unknown in her role of Broomhilda. 

Despite this shortcoming, “Django” includes my favorite supporting performance of 2012. That honor goes to Samuel L. Jackson for his portrayal of Candie’s dastardly right-hand man, Stephen. It’s amazing how an hour or two in the make-up chair can transform a highly-revered actor into the scene-stealing performer of the year (a la Tom Cruise in 2008’s Tropic Thunder). I wish I could better describe this character to you, but Stephen is a character you just have to see to believe. I promise you’ve never seen Jackson like this before.

There was very little I did not love about “Django Unchained,” but as I mentioned before, I was disappointed in Washington’s lack of presence. In addition to that, I felt that the film’s final act was slightly bloated. It was still entertaining and served as the icing on the cake for a very satisfying moviegoing experience, but I was already perfectly satisfied and ready for the credits to roll fifteen or twenty minutes before they actually did. I guess that’s Tarantino, though, and I love his work more than I hate it.

On the whole, “Django Unchained” is one of the most immensely satisfying movies of the year. Nobody but Tarantino could have created this film, one very, very loosely inspired by the 1966-Spaghetti Western “Django,” starring Franco Nero. All the two films have in common are some shared songs for the soundtrack and performances by Franco Nero. SPOILER: Look for him in a cameo performance as the owner of a slave that fights against Candie’s slave in the parlor of a Mississippi social club.

Go see this in theaters as soon as you can. It’s well worth your attention and the awards hype. IMDb reports five Golden Globe nominations at this time.