Quentin Tarantino making a Western sounds like the coolest coupling of director and genre since Scorsese noodled with the mafia, and judging from the rootin' tootin' trailer for "Django Unchained," it just might live up to our cinema-junkie expectations.
For his smash hit "Inglourious Basterds," Tarantino gave Jews their ultimate revenge fantasy by allowing Eli Roth to smoke Hitler, and we loved every minute of it. Now imagine him applying that same gonzo, pop culture-laden sensibility to a freed African-American slave riding dusty trails, scouting filthy saloons, or going up against heaps o' redneck crackers with itchy trigger fingers. Now you get the picture.
Here's all you should possibly know to get in the saddle with the "Pulp Fiction" maestro for his trip to the wild, wild ... South?
Most Wanted List
For the title slave-turned-gunslinger, Jamie Foxx beat out the formidable likes of Will Smith, Idris Elba and "Boardwalk Empire" star Michael K. Williams, all of whom QT considered before tapping the "Ray" Academy Award winner. He'll share the screen with a veteran of the Tarantinoverse, Austrian thesp Christoph Waltz, whose masterful role as SS Col. Hans Landa in "Inglourious Basterds" led to Oscar glory and a place in the director's heart. In "Django," Waltz's erudite German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, who frees Django and makes him his partner, is a part that couldn't be written for anyone else. (Yes, his name is "Dr. King"… Tarantino is not being subtle with the civil rights subtext.) There's also a whole stable of bad guys, led by Leonardo DiCaprio having the time of his life sleazing it up as Calvin Candie, a Francophile plantation owner who has Django's wife. Samuel L. Jackson plays his not-so-humble servant Stephen, sporting some awesome muttonchops and a bad attitude. Also, as a cherry on top, The RZA.
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Who Gets The Travolta Treatment?
Typically, Tarantino has a habit of resuscitating dormant careers, a la John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction," Robert Forster in "Jackie Brown," or David Carradine in "Kill Bill"; but his "Django" barn is so chock-a-block with big names it just might burst. For a breakout role, though, we'd have to go with Kerry Washington as Django's missing wife and fellow slave Broomhilda, or "Hildy." Although her profile is fairly high, especially after her star turn in the ABC series "Scandal," this could be the movie that cements Washington as one of the hottest women on the planet.
You'll still spot some faces you might not have seen on the big screen in a while, including Don Johnson, Anthony LaPaglia, James Remar and the great Franco Nero, who played another famous spaghetti Western hero for Sergio Corbucci's "Django." This film has nothing to do with that one, although that 1966 flick does feature an awesome Gatling gun-in-a-coffin scene.
Wastin' Away Again in Tarantinoville
Anyone who's a fan of Tarantino and his pastiche style knows his penchant for spaghetti Westerns, particularly his favorite movie of all time, "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," so the only thing shocking about the 49-year-old helmer saddling up for his "Southern" is that it took him this long to do it. Damn Gen-X slacker! Even when he told Charlie Rose a few years back that he wanted to make a biopic on slavery abolitionist John Brown, he emphasized that it would still have his usual Tarantinoisms. "I wouldn't go the dreary, solemn, historical route," he said. "I just don't like that musty thing." With the help of his frequent director of photography Robert Richardson, it should make for a brutal, bloody good time.
Sergio Leone + "Roots" × "Kill Bill" = "Django Unchained"
Though this might be Tarantino's dream film, it sounds like it's been a nightmare to make. In October Christoph Waltz dislocated his pelvic bone while horseback riding in training for the film, but luckily recuperated quick enough. While the cast was initially packed like an overstuffed burrito with stars, many of the supporting players have been dropping like flies, with Kurt Russell taking over for Kevin Costner as an evil slaver, then himself dropping out. A similar occurrence happened when Sacha Baron Cohen took on Scotty, a memorable one-scene cameo written for Jonah Hill, then also fell by the wayside. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had to bail at the last minute owing to his own directorial duties. Despite these setbacks, the shooting (and we mean shooting) in New Orleans has been going well enough, with Tarantino even getting into character by directing in an authentic Western hat and outfit. He'd make a fine barkeep.
Also Check Out: Sacha Baron Cohen Gets Unchained from "Django"
We Have a Warrant For a Plot Synopsis
Though the script is a complex machine replete with enough "spaghetti Western flashback" moments to make Clint Eastwood wince (more than usual), the throughline is pretty simple. Django is a slave separated from his beloved slave wife Hildy; but because he knows the identity of the evil Brittle Brothers, Dr. Schultz takes him on as his sidekick, teaching him to ride, shoot, and role-play like a pro in order to hunt these bastards down and collect that bounty money. After years of faithful service and a lot of dead Brittle Brothers, Schultz lives up to his promise and takes Django to the Candieland plantation to get Hildy back. Even after what must have been at least two or three dozen killings, this is the point at which the movie starts to get violent. Expect the mother of all showdowns, and lots of justifiably dead peckerwoods.
Straight Shootin' Buzz
Our Internet kinfolk have kindly let slip about some of the roughly seven minutes of "Django Unchained" that screened at Cannes, which many folk reckoned was the best durn thang they laid eyes on at that there festival. Indiewire ran down several prominent tweets from the Weinstein Company event, while Alex Billington of First Showing and Raffi Asdourian of The Film Stage were pretty stoked about the "seven magical minutes" that covered a wide swath of the film, including Jamie's training scenes set to James Brown's "Payback."
Why We're Thinking the "D" Stands for "Dyn-o-mite!"
As if the name "Quentin Tarantino" alone didn't already hurl us into a theater seat, this has all the earmarks of being a centerpiece in an already charmed filmography. In both "Kill Bill" and "Basterds," QT made endless references to Sergio Leone's Westerns, be it through mammoth close-ups or dropping the needle on some Ennio Morricone tracks. Now he finally has a chance to pay the ultimate tribute to the "Once Upon a Time in the West" director and unleash his full Western arsenal in the most lavish production of his career. We'd hitch our wagon to this movie any time.