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There's an epic spaghetti Western feel to Quentin Tarantino's latestaction/comedy/romance hybrid that is by turns dazzling, daring, gruesomeand astonishingly funny.

Django Unchained ( * * *1/2 out of four; rated R; opens Christmas Day nationwide) is classicTarantino. This inventive, beautifully shot reimagining of historyfeatures Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave-turned-hero who teams up withoffbeat dentist/bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz. (Christoph Waltz). Thedialogue, particularly in the first hour, is some of the wittiest of anyscreenplay in recent memory.

Asthe movie opens, Foxx is one of a group of chained slaves beingtransported by traders on a cold night two years before the Civil War.The German-born Schultz buys Django and offers him his freedom inexchange for his assistance in tracking down a trio of murderousbrothers.

Django leads Schultzto his quarry - and finds he has an affinity for that line of work.Schultz suggests they become partners. After a bloody stopover in afrontier town, the two arrive at the plantation of Big Daddy (playedwinningly by Don Johnson), who resembles a younger Colonel Sanders.

Django proves an astute bountyhunter with a sharp aim. But above all, Django wants to reunite withhis beloved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The pair's search leadsthem to a nasty Francophile named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) andultimately to his massive plantation known as Candyland, whereBroomhilda is being held. Candie's most trusted house slave, Stephen(an almost unrecognizable Samuel L. Jackson), becomes suspicious ofDjango and Schultz, which spurs the film's most absurdly vivid andgrisly scene.

Foxx does a terrific job as thetaciturn Django, and Washington is wonderful as Broomhilda, but theperformances of Jackson, Waltz and DiCaprio are the most memorable. Theentire ensemble is first-rate, and the musical score, filled withclassic spaghetti Western compositions as well as a song by John Legend,makes the movie all the more indelible.

Tarantino and cinematographer Robert Richardson fashion gorgeouspanoramic visuals of the countryside, which provide a strikingcounterpoint to the bloodbath that comes in the final third of the film.

Tarantino has something serious to say about Americanculture, history and race, but the unremitting violence and offensivelanguage may be too much for some viewers.

Bygraphically depicting the mistreatment of slaves, Tarantino drives homethe ugliness of racism and, as in his Inglourious Basterds from2009, offers an empowering alternate vision. The revisionist result isincendiary and difficult to watch but also thought-provoking andconsistently entertaining.

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