I’m hugely conflicted about Django Unchained. It’s another rip-roaring yarn from the staggeringly fertile mind of Quentin Tarantino. Once again, he throws in dozens of film references, homages, styles and sensibilities to create something fiercely original and unique – the spaghetti southern. Which is a cowboy movie set in 1858 in the American South. Django is a slave turned bounty hunter who is on a quest to free his beloved wife Broomhilda. His struggle and hard-earned victory against the heinous slave owners had me whooping in my seat. But the horrific violence had me squirming. There isn’t a living thing in this film that remains unscathed. Men, women and horses are blown to bits and in one scene, dogs tear a slave apart.
In interviews, Tarantino has explained that his violence is both gleeful and realistic and no matter how bad it gets, it still can’t match the true horrors of slavery in America. Which is of course true but that doesn’t make it easier to watch. I also found it disturbing that I was laughing as people were being murdered. In many scenes, I just shut my eyes. Django Unchained is too long, too talky and features an excessively passive leading lady but it’s also exciting and ferociously alive. There’s Tarantino’s skill at finding humor in the darkest of places. His ability to create memorable characters and then match them perfectly to actors. Leonardo DiCaprio makes a smooth and chillingly evil plantation owner. Samuel L.Jackson is even more terrifying as the head house slave but my favorite is the Oscar winning performance of Christoph Waltz as the suave dentist, Dr. Schultz who coolly declares: I kill people and sell their corpses for cash.
Django Unchained has sweep and power. It’s disturbing and problematic and yet demands to be seen. I’m going with three and a half stars.