Quentin Tarantino has made another movie. Or, rather, Quentin Tarantino has made the same movie again.
As in both "Kill Bill" movies, "Inglourious Basterds" and "Jackie Brown," revenge drives "Django Unchained," in which a courtly outlaw (Christoph Waltz) and a runaway slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) search for the slave's wife. Their quest leads to a plantation overseen by a gleeful maniac (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose role has "best supporting actor nominee" written all over it.
Actually, "Django" is a festival of should-be supporting actor nominees. Waltz's subtly menacing performance recalls his much-awarded "Inglorious Basterds" work, but this character is funnier and more elegant. Samuel L. Jackson is mighty entertaining, ranting like a demon as an unhinged slave who is a dead ringer for the guy on the Uncle Ben's rice packaging. And Walton Goggins and DiCaprio have tons of fun as, basically, Evil and Eviler.
Notice that I didn't mention Foxx? He's fine but, even after we've watched Django for nearly three hours, the only thing we know about his recessive character is that he's good at shooting people at close range. Django doesn't say much for the first couple hours, which creates suspense around his mysteriousness, but then he does talk and it turns out Tarantino has nothing for him to say.
"Django Unchained" is the first Tarantino film that feels tired. His theme is too obvious (the beauty of the pre-Civil War South covered up a lot of ugliness) and enough, already, with the juvenile revenge fantasies. Everyone but Tarantino knows it's an empty impulse that harms the avenger as much as the avenged, but it's as if all he cares about is how cool it is to watch sacks of blood (i.e., "people") explode.
Individual sequences in the overblown "Django" remind us of the masterful craftsman of "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown," but, with baroque sidetrips dragging this simple story out for almost three hours, he has forgotten how to pace a movie. He's a great filmmaker and maybe he has earned the right to do whatever he wants, but I suspect he'd make better movies if he had some restrictions. Once in a while, it might be good for him to be told, "No."
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio
Rated: R, for intense, graphic violence, partial nudity and very strong language
Should you go? Tarantino fans won't want to miss it, but should keep expectations reasonable. **
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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