"Django" is an exercise in pure, joyous cinema from a master director taking reign over his diverse cinematic influences. It is a deliciously pitch-black piece of revisionist history with serious Oscar credentials.
Christoph Waltz plays the charming Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter and former dentist who crosses paths with the titular Django, played with quiet reserve by Jamie Foxx. Foxx's steely demeanor pivots perfectly off of Waltz's wonderfully animated Schultz, making the two 2012's best duo.
Django and Schultz's partnership leads them to the clutches of Candyland, a slave plantation ruled by the sadistic Calvin Candie, played with posturing showmanship by Leonardo DiCaprio. It is here that Django's wife Broomhilda (the exquisite Kerry Washington) remains shackled and overseen by Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), the house slave.
Thematically, "Django" often feels like the culmination of Tarantino's revenge saga that began with "Kill Bill" and continued with "Inglorious Basterds." Here, the auteur gets to lay waste to our own wretched past with a six-shooter in hand and calling card influences of blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns.
With "Basterds," the director proved remarkably adept at building scenes of nail-biting tension that could explode at any minute. "Django" compounds that ability --- we never know what to expect.
What is expected, and delivered, is Tarantino's sharp and self-aware writing as the focal selling point of "Django." Character dialogue is imbued with southern swagger and spills out like sweet tea on a hot day.
And boy, do the actors on display help to frontload the Oscar race. As an Uncle Tom with a seriously twisted agenda, Jackson shows how remarkable he can be with the right film backing him.
Waltz, who gets many of the film's flashiest monologues, imbues Schultz with the same devilish charisma that helped him secure a golden statue as Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds."
The race to lose is DiCaprio's, though. His fundamentally unlikable Candie is so unlike anything the actor has done before, magnetically transfixing audiences to the screen.
The film's climactic dinner scene in which DiCaprio discusses phrenology has more palpable tension than anything you will witness this year and builds to an unforgettably blood-soaked climax.
In these moments, Tarantino goes into full splatterhouse mode and the payoff is well deserved. Slave drivers make for wonderful bad guys, and Tarantino finally gives them what they've always had coming.