In “Django Unchained,” Jamie Foxx plays Django, a black slave purchased for about a hundred dollars and freed by a German dentist and bounty hunter named Schultz (Christoph Waltz). A straightforward treatment might have involved having the slave run away north. But the movie Quentin Tarantino has written and directed is corkscrewed, inside-out, upside-down, simultaneously clear-eyed and completely out of its mind.
Django is married. He and his wife (Kerry Washington) were savagely lacerated and separately sold. He’s not free until she is. So he works as the bounty hunter’s sidekick, with the bounty hunter agreeing to help him find the wife and rescue her from a Mississippi plantation. . . .
Samuel L. Jackson plays crusty, waxen Stephen as a vision of depraved loyalty and bombastic jive that cuts right past the obvious association with Uncle Tom. The movie is too modern for what Jackson is doing to be limited to 1853. He’s conjuring the house Negro, yes, but playing him as though he were Clarence Thomas or Alan Keyes or Herman Cain or Michael Steele, men whom some black people find embarrassing.
For years, Jackson has been enabling Tarantino to fancy himself this honorary negro. Jackson can deliver the n-word, and other profanities, with ketchup, mustard, and relish. It’s the same here. That word might be fired off more than any bullet. But Jackson is going for something that’s different from the sleazebag he played in Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown.” The white vileness in “Django Unchained” is one thing — it’s stock, even DiCaprio’s psychological version of it — but Jackson’s is what sticks with you. We’ve never seen as life-size a black monster as this, not even in D.W. Griffith. Jackson turns the volume way up on his entire persona to broadcast the nightmare of black self-loathing. It’s a terrifying, fearless, and easily misconstrued performance.