Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained centres on slave Django (Jamie Foxx), who is freed by bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) in return for identifying a gang Schultz wishes to collect the bounty on.
With the task complete the pair form a partnership to round up more bad guys in return for Schultz’s eventual help in freeing Django’s wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), now owned by plantation owner Calvin J. Candie.
What follows is three hours of exhilaratingly energetic and very violent Western-themed action, in which the pair pit come up against bad guys Don Johnson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson.
The film looks beautiful, with rich and sumptuous costumes complimenting some stunning location work and the two leads invest their characters with a plausible sense of camaraderie that successfully bridges the gap between their respective statuses.
On the other side of the good/bad divide, DiCaprio swaggers his way through scenes as Candie, seemingly relishing the break from his usual good guy roles while Jackson’s performance as his servant Stephen is a masterclass in method acting.
The whole affair is enhanced by a great soundtrack including Rocky Roberts & Luis Bacalov’s Django, a track possibly even more epic than the film itself.
But while there’s a lot to be liked about Django Unchained, I found myself sitting uncomfortably at the film’s repeated use of the word ‘nigger’ and its tendency to invite the audience to laugh at the South’s racist culture.
A scene in which a Klu Klux Klan party hunt Django and Schultz rapidly descends into a row between the group about the suitability of their hoods and the questionable sewing skills of the Klansman’s wife who made them.
This almost ‘Allo, ‘Allo style comedy sits uncomfortably in the context of the film’s casual and repeated racism.
We’re probably being asked to laugh at, rather than with, the Klan but instead of ridiculing their abhorrent views, Tarantino’s script merely turns them into fashion conscious old women.
And that’s a shame because in doing so Tarantino undermines, and at times cheapens, what could easily have been a faultless film.
As it is, Django Unchained is a flawed masterpiece that’s guaranteed to thrill and entertain but which will almost certainly leave you feeling awkward and uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons.
Our verdict: 4/5
Django Unchained is released across the UK on January 18th.