It's easy to see that Quentin Tarantino loves to play cowboys and Indians — make that cowboys and slavers in his case — and that's what makes “Django Unchained” so much fun to watch. When this former video store clerk and lifelong B-movie and spaghetti Western geek-turned-filmmaker is enjoying himself, the audience is bound to share his boyish delight, providing viewers are fans who at least to some degree understand his twisted-little-boy sense of humor.
The writer-director who most recently rewrote the final days of World War II with “Inglourious Basterds” now turns his revisionist eyes west — well, make that south in his case — basing his new film very loosely on a 1966 Italian oater called “Django,” directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero (husband of Vanessa Redgrave and Sir Lancelot in Joshua Logan's “Camelot”) in the title role.
The film about a lone gunslinger dragging a Gatling gun around in a coffin became a cult classic, inspiring more than 40 unofficial sequels over the next 45 years, of which “Django Unchained” is the latest.
But aside from the protagonist's name and the fact that Nero makes a cameo appearance here, Tarantino's self-described “rip-off” is a completely unrelated story set in the South two years before the Civil War, starring Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) as Django, a slave who is recruited by German-born ex-dentist turned bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds”) to help track down the murderous Brittle brothers. Schultz promises to free Django when the outlaws are captured — or killed.
But once this is accomplished, the two men remain together as partners, tracking down outlaws while Schultz trains Django to become “the fastest gun in the South” and the freed man focuses on finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to slave traders years before.
The trail finally leads Django and Schultz to the sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, excelling and reveling in his first villainous role), who rules the fiefdom known as the Candyland plantation, advised by old Stephen, the fiercely loyal head of the house slaves (a fiercely believable Samuel L. Jackson) and protected by a crew of gunslinging overseers that includes the ruthless Billy Crash (a terrifically loathsome Walt Goggins of TV's “Justified”).