REVENGE is a dish best served cold and Quentin Tarantino turns the temperature gauge to subzero in this blood-soaked western inspired by Sergio Corbucci's 1966 revenge thriller Django starring Franco Nero.
Set in 1858, Django Unchained energises a simple tale of redemption with the writer-director's characteristic flair behind the lens and on the page.
A superfluous interlude with poorly prepared Ku Klux Klan members, who can barely see out of hoods made by one of their wives, is hysterical.
Tarantino guns down political correctness at every turn, not least with the creation of a black slave, played with fire and brimstone-spouting fury by Samuel L Jackson, who is even more racist than his white masters.
It's little wonder that fellow film-maker Spike Lee, who has taken Tarantino to task for his love of the N-word in the past, has courted controversy by publicly stating his intention to boycott Django Unchained because it is disrespectful to his ancestors.
How Lee intends to accurately judge a piece of art without actually viewing remains a mystery.
The bullets start flying ‘somewhere in Texas’ when two slave merchants, the Speck brothers, meet a German dentist called Dr King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) on the road one night.
It turns out that the flamboyant European is also a bounty hunter and Schultz kills the Specks in order to release slave Django (Jamie Foxx) from his shackles.
Django is valuable because he the only man who can identify the murderous Brittle brothers.
Having been granted his freedom, Django agrees to help Schultz kill the siblings.
Django subsequently learns that his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) has fallen into the clutches of a slippery plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Schultz pledges his allegiance on a rescue mission.
Django Unchained boasts some bravura sequences including slow-motion gun fights and snappy flashbacks.
However, you can have too much of a good thing. Tarantino's vision runs to a buttock-numbing 165 minutes.
Foxx is tightly wound as a vengeful husband, playing the straight man to larger-than-life performances from Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson.
The love story with Washington has some surprisingly tender moments but whenever it seems Tarantino might be going soft, his characters unleash a blitzkrieg of expletives.
The body count, like the running time, is unapologetically excessive.
STAR RATING: ****
THE SESSIONS (15)
ONCE in a while, an actor delivers a performance of such raw emotional power that it's impossible to tear your eyes from the screen.
John Hawkes, who received an Oscar nomination in 2011 for the indie drama Winter's Bone, achieves the staggering feat in The Sessions.
In Ben Lewin's magnificent film, he plays poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, who was paralysed from the neck down by childhood polio and required an iron lung to breathe.
O'Brien's wit and courage were brilliantly immortalised in Jessica Yu's Oscar-winning 1996 documentary short Breathing Lessons.
Laying on gurneys and beds for almost the entire film, Hawkes conveys his character's maelstrom of insecurities with fearlessness and tenderness.
It's a virtuoso portrayal of a gentle spirit who refused to be overwhelmed by his disability, and recalls the theatrics of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot.
Hawkes really is THAT good.
The Sessions begins with Mark reliant on his pretty nurse Amanda (Annika Marks) to survive. He gradually falls in love with her, only to be rebuffed.
Amanda quits and no-nonsense Vera (Moon Bloodgood) takes over day-to-day duties, wheeling Mark around California with a breathing tube.
When he is asked to pen a feature on Sex And The Disabled, Mark is introduced to married sex surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt), who believes she can help him overcome his self-doubt and perceived limitations during six one-to-one sessions.
Cheryl slowly breaks down Mark's defences with body awareness exercises, then builds his confidence to achieve intercourse.
An intense bond forms between the two, and after each meeting, Cheryl returns to compile her notes before cuddling up to her husband Josh (Adam Arkin).
However, when Mark pens Cheryl a poem to express his deep feelings, Josh loses his veneer of cool, fearful that professional and personal boundaries could be crossed during their encounters behind closed doors.
The Sessions eschews smuttiness and mawkish sentiment, presenting Mark's condition with unflinching candour. Hawkes commands every elegantly crafted frame.
William H Macy provides comic relief as the priest who becomes Mark's confidant, while Hunt bares everything for the role, delivering her best performance since As Good As It Gets.
STAR RATING: ****