THE WORLD'S FIRST western blaxploitation revenge buddy comedy, Django Unchained is one of Quentin Tarantino's best movies—a brutal, hilarious, thrilling, messy bastard of a thing. It's the result of Tarantino gleefully making a balls-out western after years of almost doing so, and it's excellent that he did: The genre hasn't been served this well since Deadwood, No Country for Old Men, and Red Dead Redemption.
"Western" might be the wrong word, actually: Much of Django Unchained riffs on the likes of Sergio Leone, but it's set in the South, just before the Civil War. There, dapper German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, flaunting what's probably the year's best performance, and unquestionably the year's best beard) rattles about in a creaky dentist's wagon that has a giant, wobbling, spring-mounted tooth bolted to its roof. "I kill people and sell their corpses for cash," Schultz explains, pragmatically and charmingly. And so—pragmatically and, somehow, charmingly—Schultz buys Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who can help him ID his current bounties, the Brittle Brothers. ("For the time being," Schultz tells Django, shortly after pouring him his first beer, "I'm going to make this slavery malarkey work to my benefit.") While Schultz plans on setting Django free once the Brittles are dead, he soon finds himself devoted to Django's own quest: to rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from Candyland, a notorious plantation owned by the rot-toothed Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and run by Candie's devoted slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). And so: a film that Tarantino boasts is "the most violent western since The Wild Bunch," even if, by the time Tupac shows up on the soundtrack, Django has become significantly bloodier. (And, as evidenced by Jim Croce's sitcom-y "I Got a Name" playing over a montage of Django and Schultz pallin' around on their horses, significantly funnier.)
Like Inglourious Basterds—another film where Tarantino reduced history to pulp, both factually and viscerally—there's a lot to unpack in Django, be it the boiling-down of America's fucked-up past into melodrama, or Tarantino's continued indulgence of his second-favorite fetish, after Uma Thurman's feet. (Here, at least, there's more context for the N-word than in Pulp Fiction.) That's for later viewings, though: On first watch, Django Unchained is simply a hell of a lot of fun—visceral and clever and operatic, with Foxx's deadpan humor barely hiding his righteous fury as DiCaprio's babyface smiles and smiles and smiles until it splits apart in rage. And that's not even getting into Samuel L. Jackson, or the big gunfight, or what is—I'm fairly certain—the only and best scene ever filmed that features the KKK, Don Johnson, and Jonah Hill.
Told you it was a messy bastard of a thing. And it's bloody, and it's mean, and it's great. Good luck finding any other movie this Xmas that's even half as much fun.