Mary Conti’s review published on Letterboxd:
**Part of the Best Picture Project**
There's a scene in Django Unchained where Django aims his rifle from a hilltop at a farmer, who is his next intended target on his bounty hunting tour with his teacher/friend Dr. Schultz. The farmer just so happens to have a young son working with him in the field, a scene of pleasant domesticity. Django hesitates, noting his sympathy for not wanting to shoot a father in front of his son. Schultz understands Django's sympathies, but pulls out a handbill indicating their target is wanted for murder of innocents, and motions Django to go ahead and shoot anyways.
Perhaps this piece of shameless black/white morality, which this film indulges in frequently, wouldn't be so bad if it didn't follow Tarantino's own previous film Inglourious Basterds. In that film, Tarantino managed to break through his own juvenility without sacrificing his auteur sensibilities, noting how the abstraction that the simple revenge narrative brings often dehumanizes its enemy, and to uncomfortable degrees. It was a funny film, but one that had a clear head and an understanding of the relationship between filmmaker, film, and audience.
It only becomes disappointing that Django Unchained never continues that challenge and instead sends Tarantino back down the hole of simplistic revenge fantasy. So Django shoots the farmer, and the boy goes to cry for his father. The two bounty hunters walk away and continue on their bounty hunting spree. This is the last time any sense of moral complexity will be paid attention to.
The rest of Django Unchained is the mostly airy (a good word that I credit to Jake Dornan for describing this film) fun. It's near impossible for Quentin Tarantino to make a movie that isn't fun. QT is an instinctual filmmaker, having never gone to film school, and thus he understands most about what he likes out of movies, and thus in this very simplistic film, the reptilian part of the brain is rewarded. Also worth noting that even in this film's general incoherence, there are a few breathless scenes that feel far more inspired than the general whole of this does (The Don Johnson segment of this film is the best, barring that strange bag head interlude). It is almost as if Django Unchained wasn't a script that Tarantino found particularly enthralling, but one with scenes that he definitely wanted to play with.