I never thought that a movie about slavery would make me laugh, but this one did. Leave it to the interminable Quentin Tarantino to make it happen.
The scene in particular adjusted my mental gauge of the film from “good” to “great,” and was one making direct reference to (but not actually calling out by name) the Ku Klux Klan. I am very, very uncomfortable seeing the KKK on screen–I mean, who isn’t, but that scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou? totally bummed me out even though the rest of the movie was so fantastic–so the fact that QT could actually wrangle some guffaws out of me really says something. It begins with a terrifying view of some 50 hooded horsemen, who gather to plan their attack on the titular Django (Jamie Foxx) and his bounty hunter mentor Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), but dissolves quickly into an hysterical verbal swordfight about how none of the men can actually see through the poorly-cut eyeholes on the white hoods. The way they speak is probably anachronistic (which is maybe the only fault of this movie, coupled with the out-of-place-but-awesome music), but no matter. It’s absolutely hilarious. In another scene, during the final of several climactic shootouts, after which several people are brutally killed, one shot aimed at Lara Lee Candie (Laura Cayouette) blows her back in comic, exaggerated fashion. I had to laugh out loud. It looked absurd.
As you might expect, these are not the only funny moments of the movie. QT is a master of making the visually dramatic be verbally funny, even in such an ironic setting as the pre-Civil War South. He cast a true artist in Christoph Waltz, who delivers his dialogue with such sexy wit that you have to wonder what Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs might have been like with the added magnetism of his German accent. I dare say that he’s even better in this than in Inglorious Basterds, but maybe that’s just because I didn’t like that one as much. I’m not even that huge a fan of historical fiction in general, but Django got to me somehow. (Obvious reason: Slavery is terrible and most of the film’s brutality was directed toward racist white people. Neat!) It seems that QT has entered another phase in his career, and Waltz has replaced Uma Thurman as his new muse. QT’s dialogue isn’t quite as snappy as it used to be, perhaps because he is actually making a few concessions in the name of historical accuracy, but it’s actually kind of nice to experience a bit of silence and let the scenery do the talking sometimes. Django is a spaghetti western, as many critics have claimed before, in the sense that it’s got a gorgeous landscape for a backdrop, and in the sense that the copious amounts of blood syrup spill viscously from the victims, so much so that it appears to be spaghetti falling out. Gross. (Fun!)
Let me stop slathering over Waltz for a second. Leonardo DiCaprio fit in almost too well as Calvin Candie, plantation owner and mandingo talent scout extraordinaire. I hope this is the start of a long, strange friendship between he and QT, as I think he could stand do do weirder, less Scorsese-ish things once in awhile. Speaking of long friendships, QT’s more permanent muse, Samuel L. Jackson, kills it as Stephen, the self-loathing older slave on Calvin’s plantation. His makeup is another story, but I can’t fault the actor for that. I just love to hear him cackle. It was good clean fun to see glimpses of Jonah Hill, James Remar, Amber Tamblyn, and Walton Goggins, all getting in on the QT club any way they can. I don’t blame them. Were it not for Christoph Waltz, this movie might belong to the actor behind its title character. Jamie Foxx–let me call him Djamie just once–is pretty fantastic, and certainly all-in here. He and Waltz have a surprising chemistry together, but Foxx only really shines once Waltz waltzes out of the picture after the second act (whoops, spoiler alert). He wields his guns and his flashy costume changes with just the swagger you’d expect. It’s just too darn bad QT can’t do the same himself; he and his cameo-cum-Fauxtralian accent are truly the worst part of this otherwise rollicking good time. I can’t wait to see what other histories he rewrites; I’d just prefer if he didn’t write himself into them.