With Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino rewrote the end of World War II, going big as he reduced Hitler to something very small: a corpse riddled with bullets fired by Jewish hit men. Historically inaccurate to say the least, it was also incredibly satisfying.
Now, Tarantino reconfigures that classic American genre, the Western, setting his new film in the Deep South, creating what he terms a "Southern," while infusing it with the spaghetti sensibilities of Sergio Leone (director of Tarantino's favorite film, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) and, more so, the genre grit of that other Sergio, Corbucci (director of 1966's Django, naturally).
Taking place in a sun-drenched land (gorgeous location photography by Robert Richardson), the film has Tarantino going even bigger, making everything comically oversized, from the prop tooth bouncing atop a dentist's wagon to the post-Peckinpah geysers of spurting viscera. It's as though Blazing Saddles has been remade by Monty Python, except Tarantino's voice remains clear — which certainly won't be appreciated by, say, Spike Lee, who publicly took Tarantino to task for using the word "nigger" a comparably quaint 38 times in Jackie Brown. (It's deployed incessantly here, as in Jackie, by actors of all races.)
Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, devouring Tarantino's dialogue as much as he did in his Oscar-winning turn in Basterds) "purchases" the shackled Django (a whip-scarred Jamie Foxx) with a couple of well-placed blasts from his concealed hand-cannon. Freed from what the German-born dentist calls "this slavery malarkey," Django literally begins "acting" as King's valet.
King, a bounty hunter who is as much a dentist as Doc Holliday, takes on Django as his protégé, with a goal of rescuing Django's long-lost wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who's the property of powerful plantation proprietor Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, oozing sleaze). But Candie may be the least of their worries.
Stephen (a menacing Samuel L. Jackson) is hunched over his cane after 60 years as Candie's personal Stepin Fetchit, but once he shuffles away from his master, he's terrifying. Transparently manipulating everyone around him, his loyalties to anyone but himself are a theatrical façade.
At this point, things slow down a bit. But it doesn't make the film feel overlong. Instead, it's the calm before the shitstorm, when Tarantino takes the chains off, and the real carnage begins.