Fans have been waiting for Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti-Western-flavored take on the antebellum South, and the waiting doesn’t end when the movie starts. For half its (substantial) length, Django Unchained dithers and doodles, introducing Christoph Waltz as a roving bounty hunter and Jaime Foxx as the titular slave he frees to help him track down his prey. (Tarantino, ever the cheeky monkey, names Waltz’s character Dr. King.)
The loosely strung collection of anecdotes that comprises the film’s opening movement hits rock bottom with a flat-footed sequence in which a passel of horse-riding Klansmen, including Don Johnson and Jonah Hill, grouses about the size of the eyeholes in their homemade hoods: It’s not only the worst scene in the movie, but the worst of Tarantino’s career. The farting around stops, by design, with the introduction of Leonardo DiCaprio’s daintily brutal slavemaster, but when he has a runaway slave ripped into pieces, the movie splits, too.
Although there’s plenty of gunplay, including the juiciest bullet hits in recent memory, Django’s highlight is a tense negotiation between Waltz and DiCaprio, with Foxx’s enslaved bride (Kerry Washington) as the object of sale. Tarantino doesn’t shirk from the ugliness of slavery, casting Samuel L. Jackson as a sadistic house negro who delights in doing his master’s work, but his confrontations are toothless.