“Over the top” is a phrase invented for show business productions or players which went beyond the normal range of acceptable dramatic situations. John Barrymore comes to mind as one of the great “hams” of filmdom, (his granddaughter Drew Barrymore has escaped that appellation) as does ghoulish Bela Lugosi in his iconic Dracula movies. Fifties filmmaker Ed Wood might also be considered for this dubious accolade. A few of Alfred Hitchcock’s scarier epics can also fall into this category. In modern times the only man who definitely fits this description is director Quentin Tarantino.
Tarantino directed his new southern Western Django Unchained not only over-the-top but beyond it. However, it’s all in fun – or what passes as Tarantino fun. Many scenes are quite funny and have hilarious dialogue. Yes, the man writes as well as he directs, and in this film he even plays a small part himself which sort of blows up in his face after a fashion.
Well-liked actor Jamie Foxx plays a former slave who is bought and freed by Germanborn traveling dentist Dr. King Schultz (Oscar winner Christolph Waltz). He has plans for Jamie’s character Django. Schultz makes a good living as a bounty hunter, and he figures Django can help him find the notorious Brittle brothers who have a price on their heads. Django used to work for them and has lost no love over the vicious men who physically beat him on the plantation.
Django joins up with Schultz in hopes of also finding his wife (Kerry Washington), who was sold to plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Foxx pulls off a good job in the roller coaster emotions of Django. Whether sitting atop a horse as the only black man to ride one in these days or fighting for his true love, Foxx fills the boots of Django perfectly.
Tarantino throws in a lot of action, horse running, fights, and Ku Klux Klan lynchings that include a hilarious sequence about their hoods that’s a don’t-miss scene.
Mandingo fights to the death with more gunfights than in 10 westerns. It’s almost mandatory a Tarantino film have more blood on the screen than does a Chicago slaughterhouse. A bad guy can’t just have his arm shot; the arm has to be viciously severed in half and the blood is guaranteed to be splattered all over the plantation mansion walls. The beautiful ante- bellum home is in need of heavy repainting when these scenes are repeated with every shootout. But they are so outrageous they become funny.
There are several great performances in the film. Leonardo DiCaprio and Christolph Waltz brighten the screen whenever they appear. Waltz, who won a 2009 Best Supporting actor Oscar for his role as the charmingly vicious Nazi officer in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, should certainly be in contention for that same category this year. His Schultz character enlivens every scene he plays, and the film more or less falls flat when he is not in the picture, so vibrant is his performance.