Quentin Tarantino takes the traditional Western, gives it an anti-slavery spin and dips the whole Antebellum caboodle in a bucket of blood. Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave set free and recruited as his right-hand man by dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr King Schultz (an Oscar-winning Christoph Waltz). They're on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers... but their path eventually takes them to Django's wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) and her brutal master, plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Jarring, bloody violence is smoothly shackled to whip-smart dialogue in Tarantino's inspired reheating of the Spaghetti Western.
Samuel L Jackson
The mythical Western character of Django first drew a gun in Sergio Corbucci's eponymous 1966 Spaghetti classic starring Italian actor Franco Nero as a drifter locked in a battle to the death with a bandit leader.
Thirty-odd coat-tail hopping spin-offs followed, none featuring either Corbucci or Nero, until Quentin Tarantino decided to pay homage to his favourite genre with this bloody tribute, featuring a wry cameo from the original director.
Tarantino's Django has changed race to become a cowed slave whose freedom is fought for and bought by German mercenary Dr King Schultz (Waltz), a dentist-turned-bounty hunter whose verbal dexterity is only matched by his ice cool skill with a gun.
Schultz wants Django (Foxx) to lead him to vicious outlaws the Brittle brothers, a task achieved so effortlessly (the Brittles die horribly) that Shultz proposes that Django brushes up on his gun play and becomes his partner until the following Spring.
The trade-off is that Schultz will lead him to his wife Broomhilda (Washington) and help him con her out of the brutal grasp of sadistic Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie (DiCaprio),
After World War II action capers like The Dirty Dozen and Kelly's Heroes received an affectionate disinterment in Inglourious Basterds, this sees Tarantino turning his magpie attention to the out-of-fashion Western, particularly the Spaghetti variety celebrated by Corbucci.
Rattling along at a frantic pace, this only pauses between elaborately gory set-pieces (a pack of dogs ripping a slave apart is particularly difficult to stomach) to sharply flesh out Waltz's intriguing gun-for-hire, a ruthless German opportunist who - unlike his countrymen in Inglourious Basterds - is guided by a strict moral compass.
Foxx's Django is less clearly defined, switching from subservience to preening vanity (his velvet blue suit is ill-advised) with little regard for human life seemingly overnight, yet he looks good on a horse and exhibits such violence he'd give even Sam Peckinpah sleepless nights.
There's a lot of fun to be had as the vengeful duo work their way through a Wild West populated by wrong 'uns from Deliverance country (check out the cheeky cameo from Jonah Hill) and things build to a fine old head of tension when we eventually arrive at vicious boy emperor DiCaprio's notorious Candyland plantation, the dark heart of its psychotic owner and home to a lot of unpalatable truths.
It's here that we meet the most interesting character - the barely recognisable Samuel L Jackson's Stephen, Candie's trusted black butler who thoughtlessly betrays Django and Schultz to his oblivious master when he susses out what they're really there for.
Unfortunately, Tarantino doesn't call a halt here but pushes on with a final reel - featuring himself in an embarrassing cameo - and ignoring the ideal place to stop. It's a bit like the Wells Fargo stagecoach having a fifth wheel - pretty unnecessary.
Yet what's gone before shows Tarantino is on a creative streak, able to engage viewers with a sharply honed script while authentically presenting unpleasant episodes from American history.