15 April 2008 | The_Void
Unsurprisingly divides audiences, but Mandingo is at least a film worth seeing
Mandingo seems to divide it's audience strongly between love and hate and that's not really surprising; the film features some real nasty elements and the way that it's all done with a highly quality 'period drama' sort of style means that it will likely miss it's supposed intended audience - although it seems to have found a good fan base among exploitation fans. The film is liable to shock modern audience for its racial themes and strong racial tone; it didn't bother me all that much to be honest as it suits the film within it's context and helps to enforce its exploitative nature, which in turn makes Mandingo more powerful. The film takes place in the south of America during the 1840's and the main focus of the plot is on slavery. White farm owner Hammond Maxwell one day discovers the fighting talent of one of his black slaves and soon decides to toughen him up for battle with other slaves. He's sympathetic with his slaves and soon becomes affectionate with one of the women, which doesn't sit well with his wife Blanche who, for revenge, forces the top fighter to sleep with her.
Anyone going into this film expecting a serious look at slavery will be either disappointed or annoyed (maybe both), but if you go into it expecting some nasty exploitation, you might find a lot to like. The film gives an unflinching look at a more primitive society and it actually more shocking for its tone and implications than the events that take place in it (although the film does include plenty of racism, torture and rape scenes). The way that the film depicts the black slaves as animals makes for uncomfortable viewing and the way that society was segregated into 'white masters' and 'black slaves' is always enforced on the viewer. The performances sit better with the exploitation side of the film rather than the serious drama side as none of them are particularly brilliant; although the three leads do fit into their roles well. Overall, this is clearly not a film for everyone and I'm not in any way saying that the film's bad reputation is in any way undeserved; but Mandingo is certainly an interesting film and I would say it is at least worth seeing.