From the moment Jamie Foxx throws off a filthy, tattered blanket to reveal a richly muscled back crisscrossed with long scars, it's obvious that Django Unchained will be both true to its exploitation roots but also clear-eyed about the misery that's being exploited.
Django (Foxx), a slave set free in the years before the Civil War, joins with a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter (the marvelous Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds), who has promised to help Django rescue his wife (Kerry Washington), who's still enslaved to a gleeful and grandiose plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio, plainly relishing the opportunity to play an out-and-out villain). What follows is a wild and woolly ride, crammed with all the pleasures one expects from a revenge fantasy written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.
Plot-wise, some things happen a little too easily (for example, Django instantly becomes a master gunslinger), but the moral perspective is not glib. For all its lurid violence and jazzy dialogue, this is a still-rare movie that paints slavery for what it was: a brutal, dehumanizing practice that allowed a privileged few to profit from the suffering of many, a practice guaranteed by the gun and the whip. Think of it as the antidote to Gone with the Wind. Tarantino is more heartfelt in Django Unchained than in any of his previous movies--without sacrificing any of the pell-mell action, tension, and delicious language that made Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and Pulp Fiction so very enjoyable.