At this point in his career, is there anything Quentin Tarantino can do to surprise us?
Absolutely. I was floored by 2009's Inglourious Basterds -- not by the violence or the outrageousness of some of the action, but by Tarantino's command of suspense, his ability to crank the tension to the breaking point in any given scene -- and then to crank it even further. It gave you that slightly breathless feeling you get when you're blowing up a balloon to see if you can make it pop from too much air -- and each puff feels like it should be the last.
And I was equally dazzled by his newest, Django Unchained, a film that manages to pay homage to films of the past even as it sends them up and then pushes past them into a territory all its own. You've never seen a western like Django Unchained because, well, no one has ever made one before. And though there are likely to be imitators, there will never be another one.
Tarantino mostly uses both the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and the revisionist westerns of the 1970s as his inspiration, with a dollop of blaxploitation and even a sprinkling of Blazing Saddles, just for a dose of absurdity. He invests each scene with a fizzing, whizzing energy, laying out a story of cruelty and revenge.
His central character is Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave in 1858 who is freed by a bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Schultz, who claims he was a dentist before he took up the gun, takes Django under his wing and trains him in the ways of the Old West. And then they head for the Deep South.
Why? Well, Django's wife is still a slave. Her name is Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), just one of Tarantino's deliciously odd little jokes, and Django wants her back. So he and Schultz start picking off bounty targets to build their cash reserve, even as they do a little sleuthing to figure out where Broomhilda is now owned.
This review continues on my website.