If there's a mix of fine cinema and nostalgic trashiness, there must be a new Quentin Tarrantino film.  Django Unchained is profile of the brutality of racism in the pre-Civil War south, as well as a shoot-'em-up with an ultra-cool, ultra-lethan man on a mission.

Django Unchained begins with Django (Jamie Foxx) getting recsued from a chain gang of slaves by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Schultz, a German-born multilingual gentleman, poses as a dentist -- even having a stagecoach with a large bouncing tooth -- but he's a bounty hunter, focusing on finding criminals that are wanted dead or alive, killing them, and bringing their corpses in for the bounty.  He needs Django to identify the Bitter Brothers -- and once they are found and killed, he'll give Django his freedom, $75, and a horse.
But Django wants more than his freedom.  His wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who conveniently speaks German, was sold into slavery and Django wants to find and free her.  So Schultz and Django become partners, and the trail to "Hilda" leads to Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the owner of a giant cotton plantation known as Candyland.  Assisted by an Uncle Tom manservant named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), Calvin fancies himself a man of gentility and culture, yet he has a passion for watching black man fight to the death.
There's a wide range of things going on throughout Django Unchained.  On the one hand, this shows the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, from the tortures and treatment of people as property to the "n-word" being thrown about casually and the frequent amazement and often hostility at the sight of a black man riding a horse.  At the same time, the opening music and titles have the feel of a blackploitation film, and the movie often goes for glorified shootouts (with no sympathy for Django's victims) as bodies literally explode after being shot.

Overall, these elements make the movie a little long -- but they all work well.  While there are painful moments of cruelty and gore, there are also plenty of comic moments, from Django's overly-fancy valet costume to some wannabe Klan members complaining that they can't see through the eyeholes in their masks.  The action scenes and gun glorification are over the top, but that's tempered by Tarantino's love of scenes of one or two people talking; and the cast is terrific.  Django Unchained isn't the best Tarantino movie -- but it is pretty good.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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