Django Unchained: 9 (out of 10)
While I should really try to avoid ranking this movie against the rest of Tarantino's filmography, I should at least compare it to its most obvious comparison: 2009's Inglorious Basterds. Both movies showed us that the oppressed people could fight back; but while Basterds reminded us to Never Forget, Django Unchained showed us pieces of history that we, as a culture, have already forgotten.
Django Unchained is a movie about slavery. Yes, it is billed as a revenge flick, and there certainly is a lot of revenge in the movie; but this revenge is against slavers and their minions. The elements of the revenge flick form a frame around which we can witness and be reviled by the racism, violence, and degradation inherent in the 1850s US South. And what comes out is brutal, disturbing, and still entertaining.
As this is a Quentin Tarantino film, many elements of the film are clearly set before entering the theatre. The direction will be stylized and top-notch; the dialogue will generally heavy and speech-y, interspersed with light and funny scenes and it will all be good; the quality of the actors will be excellent across the board, save perhaps for Tarantino's cameo role; and the violence will be integral to the film and over-the-top. All of these things are true, and I will not dwell on them.
What is worth dwelling on is the actors themselves. Jamie Foxx delivers an excellent and understated performance as the titular Django, a freed slave that works as bounty hunter to free his wife. Christoph Waltz is a German dentist/bounty hunter that frees Django, in a curious juxtaposition to his role in Tarantino's previous movie, Inglorious Basterds. Most impressively, Samuel L Jackson plays the aged head slave of the Candyland plantation; to his peers he is in charge, and to his masters he is quite simply a dog. The mix is fascinating. And these are only the lead roles!
Many of the set pieces are top notch, and spoiling them would do a disservice to those reading the review. The segment with the proto-KKK sticks out in my mind as very Blazing-Saddles-y; the dinner-time conversations were appropriately tense; Tarantino's character made me giggle; and the opening scene did an excellent job of showing us what the movie was going to be about. This is a movie that will survive multiple viewings, if just to see a few of these scenes over and over again.
One point worthy of note was the soundtrack, which is a mix of 60s- and 70s-style spaghetti western music with the occasional piece of gangsta rap where appropriate. Even when played over-loud it added to the film; but I still doubt I'm going to buy a copy of it any time soon.
At any rate, this was a top-notch, challenging, and stressful film. It is both a stark reminder of the history of racism in our country, and an excellent use of cathartic revenge. If you have the stomach for the blood and violence, you should see it.
Rating: 9 (out of 10)