Modern exploitation guru Quentin Tarantino serves up historical revenge once again. His last film, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, had the German Nazis getting theirs, and now, with a good German on board (in fact he's the villain from the last film) we're out to set things right in the American Deep South, two years shy of the Civil War
Although the first half takes place on the road from Texas to Mississippi as bounty hunting dentist Dr. King Schultz recruits a slave named Django to help him find three outlaw brothers (Django alone knows their appearance). These are the more spirited and deliciously cutthroat segments as our heroes partner up and, as Django puts it, "Kill white people for money." Christoph Waltz (Schultz) and Jamie Foxx (Django) are a good team, and while making mince meat out of their targets, the bloodshed is something to marvel.
But Tarantino throws in awkward bouts of humor, derailing the intensity of the moment. One particular scene where a group of rednecks complain about not seeing through masked eyeholes (including a very distracting cameo by Jonah Hill) feels like Mel Brooks clumsily intruding Sergio Leone.
After Django helps Schultz with his job, it's time for the doctor to aid his more-than-capable partner rescue Django's wife Broomhilda, who resides at "Candyland," an infamous Antebellum plantation run by the sinister though much too youthful Calvin Candie.
While Leonardo DiCaprio has more than capable acting skills, and savors the gloriously tyrannical racist dialog, there could have/should have been a backstory on why the owner of a plantation looks fresh out of finishing school.
For a man who's supposed to have a lifetime of seething venom oozing from his veins, those desperately piercing blue eyes seem more confused and frustrated than cold and calculating, making Tarantino's purposely overboard racism more of a crutch than weapon for the DiCaprio character (perhaps Don Johnson, who played a wily brothel owner in a previous scene, could have taken this role
he had the age going for him and with that, soulless eyes that look like he's seen – and been through – pretty much everything).
But Leo's not alone. He's helped along by the most wicked of Uncle Tom's played by Samuel Jackson, whose spitefully cantankerous Stephen figures things out before his boss. This is a nice role for the QT stock actor, who has sleepwalked through many roles post PULP FICTION and JACKIE BROWN. Although his feeble mannerisms often slow down the performance.
The main problem with UNCHAINED is how long Tarantino stretches scenes with dialog. While the actors, especially Waltz and DiCaprio, have a blast with colorful monologues, you'll often forget there are other characters on board – and most of the speeches fail to serve the plot. That being: the duo pretending to buy Mandingo slave fighters when they really want the girl.
With all the deals and discussions going on, the much-anticipated reunion of Django and Broomhilda is lost in the mix. Not even Django's surreptitious trigger finger (whenever she's treated badly) adds worthy suspense, which, during this overlong stint at Candyland, is very much needed.
But there's not all downtime at the mansion: a particular Candie lecture involving a slave's skull does successfully perk things up, providing DiCaprio a good five minutes of sheer unapologetic villainy. Then, after a shocking twist, it's Django alone who must save his girl.
Jamie Foxx, having played a quietly brooding second fiddle to Waltz so far, makes up for lost time with heated gusto. This third and final act involving a group of Australians being duped by Django, who's learned the art of waxing poetic, is replete with the bare-knuckle action we've anticipated all along: although the large chunks of bloody guts flying off each gunshot victim seems like Tarantino doing an imitation of himself.
There are some really neat montage sequences and beautiful locations, but some of the music, especially that of the rap nature, seems too modern for the time portrayed. And the editing feels somewhat limp without QT's longtime collaborator Sally Menke, who died a few years back: Particular flashbacks and hallucinations are often confusing and awkward.
A pretty good ride, much better than Quentin's last two films (BASTERDS and DEATH PROOF), yet there needed a much tighter/sharper vehicle for our title hero to deserve the fanfare of the literally explosive finale.
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