Dec. 24, 2012 at 11:38 PM ET
REVIEW: There are reasons to see "Django Unchained." Christoph Waltz is excellent as a pre-Civil War bounty hunter who buys and frees slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and teams up with him to find his sold-off wife. Leonardo DiCaprio, as a disturbing plantation owner who stages forced fights between muscular slaves, is creepy in a way that would've horrified sweet Jack from "Titanic." Writer and director Quentin Tarantino has not lost one bit of his ability to deliver compelling, smart dialogue and set up situations where you simply have to see what's lurking around the next corner.
And there are reasons not to see "Django Unchained." Blood falls like snow, pours like rain, wraps scenes like a blanket. It hangs in drippy, nasty gobbets, it takes flight like a flock of seagulls. There are whipping scenes, a near castration, and other tortures inflicted on the slaves. Yes, the N-word is used 100+ times, but it's hard to argue that usage isn't historically accurate. The forced slave fighting, dubbed "Mandingo fighting" in the film, is horrific -- if you've ever wondered how a pure one-on-one, mano-a-mano beating can kill a man, here is your visual evidence.
"Django" shares some elements with Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." There's the satisfaction in both films of seeing the oppressed rise up against horrible historical tormentors. Waltz's German bounty hunter finds American slavery disgusting, so he stands in for the audience as the horrors unfold. When he strikes out for justice, we're satisfied. Another scene portrays a pre-KKK group as a bunch of bumblers who can't even see out of their hastily hand-sewn masks, nicely crumbling their would-be terror plan.
You can take "Django" as a romance, as Django fights to get back to wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). You can take it as a reminder of the horrors of slavery, writ bloodily and brutally by the hand of a filmmaker who knows how to present violence in a most cinematic way. You can simply appreciate the performances of Waltz, Foxx, DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson as a cruel house slave, and, in a goofy little cameo, Tarantino himself.
But when all's over, and the ending blows up in typical big Tarantino style, the three-hour film doesn't really hold together as a cinematic experience. Revenge and reunion don't mean a happy ending, not for former slaves in the pre-Civil War South. Elements of the film remind viewers of better Tarantino films, but big fans would be better off renting "Pulp Fiction" for the zillionth time, to remember when Tarantino put together pulpy violence and pop culture dialogue in a fresher, more complete way.