Christoph Waltz seems to know that God, the devil or just a delightful performance is in the details. And to never overdo it.
As a German dentist turned American bounty hunter in “Django Unchained,” he periodically tugs on his vest and runs his thumb and index finger over the corners of his generous mustache.
It’s a motion that seems born of habit, vanity and slight nerves, and it helps him to create another distinctive character for Quentin Tarantino, the writer-director who guided Waltz to an Oscar for “Inglourious Basterds.”
This time around, he’s joined by a gleefully villainous Leonardo DiCaprio and leading actor Jamie Foxx as a slave in the pre-Civil War South who embarks on a journey for freedom, his beloved wife and Western-style justice.
That means bullets, lots of bullets, and blood that gushes, splashes and sprays in a way moviegoers will find stylized, Tarantino-esque or stomach-turning.
Audiences also should be cautioned that the n-word is uttered early and often — roughly 110 times by several counts, or enough to make some viewers of all colors cringe. As with the f-word, sometimes a single crisp delivery is most shocking; use the epithet this often and it loses its power and offense.
The movie, which opens in 1858 Texas before the Civil War, is an homage to spaghetti Westerns. Django (Foxx) is part of a chain gang, and the scars crisscrossing his back and the shackles binding him to other enslaved Africans provide a shorthand for his history.
A bounty hunter and onetime dentist, Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) is interested in Django as the way to identify brutal brothers with a price on their heads.
In the early going, the scheme calls for Django to masquerade as the German’s valet, although their ruses change as they encounter all manner of dangers, from the KKK to Calvin Candie (DiCaprio).
He’s the owner of a plantation called Candyland and a man who gets his thrills out of watching “Mandingo fighters” battle each other to the death or despair. Candie’s encounters with the bounty hunters lead to apocalyptic showdowns.
“Django Unchained” allows Foxx to cowboy up, literally, as he rides his personal horse and pulls guns out of their hip-hugging holsters and twirls them like a rodeo star. Some of the air goes out of the picture whenever Waltz and/or DiCaprio aren’t on screen with him. And there’s a lot of picture to watch — 165 minutes’ worth, which is far too long.