FILE - This undated publicity image released by The Weinstein Company shows, from left, Christoph Waltz as Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django in 'Django Unchained,' directed by Quentin Tarantino. The film centers on a slave trying to rescue his wife from a Mississippi plantation. (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Andrew Cooper, SMPSP, File) / AP
The name of the movie is "Django Unchained," but for all practical purposes it might as well be called "Tarantino Unleashed."
Whatever you like or hate, or like and hate, about Quentin Tarantino's movies, is in full display here. It's long (too long) and bloody, profane and gleeful, with movie genre references stuffed so tightly into each scene they practically spill out onto the theater floor.
Restraint is not Tarantino's strong suit. Entertainment is, and "Django" has plenty of that.
It's a buddy film, a slavery epic, a revenge fantasy and a spaghetti Western, for starters. If that sounds like it's all too much, it is, really. But it's packaged as such a loving tribute to film, it's impossible not to enjoy it.
We first meet Django (Jamie Foxx) as he is trudging across Texas, chained to other slaves. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) arrives and buys Django, then frees him. It turns out Schultz has given up his dentistry practice for something more lucrative: He's a bounty hunter.
And he thinks Django should be one, too. It doesn't take a lot of convincing. Kill white people? And get paid for it? He's in.
The first hour or so is a buddy movie and a funny one, as Schultz teaches Django the tools of the trade. He's a genius with a gun, which comes in handy. He doesn't flinch when it comes to gunning down a man wanted dead or alive, another important skill.
Then the two travel to Mississippi, in hopes of freeing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), Django's wife who was bought and separated from him. She was bought by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), owner of the infamous Candieland, his plantation where he hosts bloody fights between slaves, among other things.
Schultz has a grand scheme that involves convincing Candie that Django is an expert when it comes to slave fighters (he is not). Foxx is outstanding as Django plays a role, as Schultz puts it, one that he has to play to perfection if they are going to free Broomhilda and -- no small thing -- stay alive themselves.
That's classic Tarantino, making storytelling a crucial element of survival. Win over your audience and you live. Fail to connect and you're dead.
But you'll have to work your way through showers of blood and gore and hideous violence to find that. Really brutal stuff, men being torn apart by dogs, things like that. And yes, there is gratuitous use of the N-word. Tarantino has said that he is simply depicting life as it was lived in the antebellum South. That may be true, but it doesn't make it any easier to watch.
Of course, that's his point.
There are many things to like about "Django." Again, Foxx is tremendous; as Django, he plays his role so well we begin to question if even he knows where to draw the line. Waltz, who won an Oscar for his work in "Inglourious Basterds," may recite Tarantino's cleverer-than-thou dialogue better than anyone. DiCaprio, unflinching in his depiction of sadism, is effective. And Samuel L. Jackson plays a scheming house slave at Candieland with enormous relish.
And yet I'm not sure it all comes to much. If it's meant as a meditation on the evils of slavery, well, most meditations aren't conducted at heavy-metal volume. Tarantino definitely means to show us, not just tell us, how horrific the practice was. (In that regard, Jackson's character, while funny, may be the most damaged. Others have lost life and limb; he's lost his soul.)
He does that. But is having Django go all Dirty Harry on slave owners the best way to exact revenge? Revenge isn't the destination, after all. It's only a sidestep on the way to real reform.
Don't misunderstand, "Django Unchained" is a really good movie that thinks it's a great one. Tarantino, capable of the latter, should know the difference.