Quentin Tarantino is back with another wish-fulfillment history adventure. Like his last picture, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained creatively rewrites the past in favor of the victimized. The heroes this time may not accomplish anything as history-altering as bringing down the Third Reich, as they did in Basterds, but they do manage to obliterate one of the most perverse slave operations in the antebellum South. By pulling back a bit in its scope, Django Unchained achieves a simultaneous recognition of historical fidelity and epic possibility. The events of Django Unchained most definitely never happened, but Tarantino creates a milieu that's infused with an expectant sense of could have, would have, should have.
Django Unchained has obvious roots in the spaghetti Western, but it's also a love story, a revenge picture and an action comedy. Leave it to Tarantino to blend all these generic components into a fluid whole, weaving in and out of the narrative objectives like a virtuoso artist at a loom. His whip-smart and entertaining dialogue propels the film and functions like a gift to his actors (Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson), who match Tarantino's words with startlingly good performances.
The love story in which the former slave Django (Jamie Foxx) seeks to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from the plantation owner to whom she was sold is vivid and palpable. The revenge drama is violent and bloody, with whippings and near-castration added to Tarantino's vast arsenal of sanguinary mayhem. As for the comedy, it's hilarious when the newly freed slave Django gets to select his wardrobe for the first time in his life and emerges in a ridiculously ornate Little Lord Fauntleroy costume.
As entertaining as Django Unchained is, the film also suffers from a certain slackness and multiple endings. It's clear Tarantino couldn't part with some of his favorite bits. One also wonders whether a writer as talented as Tarantino might have figured a way around the film's rampant use of the taboo "n" word, even if it is historically accurate.
Despite these quibbles, Django Unchained offers an embarrassment of cinematic riches.