Is there - or has there ever been - a director more skilled at selling a sense of dread than Quentin Tarantino? You know, that feeling that something really, really bad is about to go down? Recall Inglourious Basterds' signature scene – Michael Fassbender and his undercover Nazi brethren trapped in an underground tavern littered with legit SS generals. It's not a question of if but rather when all hell is going to break loose.
There's a profusion of that kind of palpable tension in Django Unchained, Tarantino's brutally violent, slave-turned-bounty hunter bloodbath features the four finest performances of 2012 within a single film.
Teaming with Tarantino for a second consecutive outing, Christoph Waltz is Dr. King Schultz, a stagecoach-driving ex-dentist who dropped his drill to lay waste to lawbreakers and collect cash for their corpses on the eve of the Civil War. Tracking down a trio known as the Briddle brothers, Schultz unshackles a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) for help locating the thugs.
While Schultz has his mind on money, Django is all about finding his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The pair were sold off to separate slaveholders months before and as the man who gave Django his freedom, Schultz feels a sense of obligation to reunite his newfound partner with his betrothed.
Which takes us to Candyland, the biggest, baddest, nastiest plantation in the South, owned and operated by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a flamboyant, slave-fighting enthusiast who happens to have Broomhilda in his possession.
Schultz and Django put on a act that has them seeking the services of a vicious mauler for their own faux slave-fighting club, as Tarantino's noose-tightening begins the moment they arrive. It's keyed by Candie's head slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), a unmerciful miscreant who smells the ruse, which yes, culminates in an ungodly orgy of guns-a-blazin' bloodshed Tarantino-style.
Picking the best performance in the film is akin to asking a parent which is their favorite kid. Foxx, Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson are all playing at a ridiculously high level. Waltz is adorable as the affably-lethal bounty hunter, Foxx twitches with a hair-triggered inner rage, DiCaprio sports the horns of the devil himself and Jackson - DiCaprio's purchased cronie - is an unpitying flask of aged evil.
At a shade under three hours, Django Unchained never once feels that length, a rarity in 2012's never-ending run of overextended films which dragged-on for large chunks of time. 'Tis a most remarkable accomplishment, a testament to the ferocity of Tarantino's fantastically unmannerly concoction.
Final Cut Score: 95%
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