In "Django Unchained," Quentin Tarantino has made one of the year’s most talked-about films – a bloody coda to anyone’s Christmas Day. Whether he's made a great movie remains unclear.
The blending of different genre films, excessive violence and sadistic humor place the film firmly in Tarantino’s oeuvre, while its revision of a historical atrocity – slavery – makes it an encore, of sorts, to his last film, “Inglorious Basterds.”
“Django,” a mix of a spaghetti western and blaxploitation, stars Jamie Foxx as a slave freed by bountyhunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). It also features Leonardo DiCaprio as a plantation owner, visited by the two heroes as they try to reclaim Django’s wife (Kerry Washington).
The majority of critics have lavished it with praise, earning it an 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 80 percent among top critics.
Tarantino has won just one Oscar in his career, a Best Screenplay trophy of 1994’s “Pulp Fiction.” Considered one of the great auteurs of his generation, he earned a slew of nominations for “Basterds” but took none home himself. Christoph Waltz won Best Supporting Actor.
If the reviews are any indication, the response is a warm embrace that stops just short of a bear hug.
“While the movie doesn’t take the outrageous narrative leaps of “Inglorious Basterds,” “Django” is nonetheless an intelligent thrill-ride, zipping along merrily (and bloodily) until it hits the inevitable Tarantino Act 3 Lag,” TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde wrote. “But even the slow bits can’t detract all that much from the wealth of trashy pleasures offered throughout.”’
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle dubs it “the most consistently entertaining movie of 2012,” while Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times writes: "In 'Django,' Tarantino is a man unchained, creating his most articulate, intriguing, provoking, appalling, hilarious, exhilarating, scathing and downright entertaining film yet.”
The most notable complaints about “Django” are its length and slow second half, as Duralde alluded to in describing an “Act 3 Lag.”
“By the two-hour mark the fun had oozed out of the movie for me. It's long. Or feels it,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips.
Yet most found the film at the very least entertaining, and others, such as, L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas found more, describing it as "both seriously entertaining and seriously thoughtful."
A.O. Scott of the New York Times praised Tarantino for brazenly reversing orthodoxy, telling a revenge tale with a black protagonist rather than a white one. Unlike Spike Lee, who decried Tarantino’s treatment of slavery, Scott saw a white man incensed by his own country’s history.
“What you see in “Django Unchained” is moral disgust with slavery, instinctive sympathy for the underdog and an affirmation (in the relationship between Django and Schultz) of what used to be called brotherhood,” Scott wrote.
Like other critics, Scott compared it to “Lincoln,” one of the year's Oscar favorites.
Time will tell whether "Django" joins that group.