What better way to prime yourself for the film than to get a taste from the script as well as an idea of the characters the cast will be playing? Whether you see it today or this coming weekend we’re all in for a treat as Tarantino delivers a film in a genre he and all of Hollywood hasn’t produced in ages.
Its been nearly a year since I reviewed the script and judging by the trailers not much has changed from what I read. The only major additions I can see is the addition of Jonah Hill to the cast and the subtraction of Kurt Russell (whose role was absorbed by Walton Goggins) and Sasha Baron Cohen (whose character was probably cut entirely since it doesn’t appear in the credits on IMDB). Nearly every scene that appears in the trailer was vividly articulated in the script, from Waltz buying Django from a team of slavers in the night to the Mandingo (fighting slaves) brawl, all seem to be intact. What follows is my reasons for being excited for and most likely why Django Unchained will go down as Tarantino’s best film.
This is going to be good.
This was my most anticipated film of 2012. With the film released I’m sure many of you spoiler addicts would love to get a taste of what is to come. Be forewarned there are as minor as I could make minor spoilers below.
The players: The Script, Waltz, and Tarantino.
To give you, the reader, a flavor of the film, I’ve copied some of the lines and actions from the script as well as ruminated on the film as a whole. This is your first spoiler warning.
The Back Story to Script Reading:
I have some experience reading scripts, particularly because I went to school for screenwriting. Part of learning required that I read a ton of scripts. One of those scripts was Kill Bill and it was a blast. Of course, most of the scripts I’ve read were after the film was released, but with Kill Bill and recently Django Unchained, both scripts were read before production even began.
Reading the script can hurt the viewing of a film much like reading a book that’s being adapted into a film. It’s hard to believe since the script is more of a road map than a vivid portrayal of the final film. When locations and actions leave something to the imagination the script can potentially look better in your head than it ends up being on the screen. I liked Kill Bill, but I loved the script.
I purposely skipped Inglourious Basterds to enjoy the film, but I can’t help myself; the Django Unchained script must be entertained! This film is going to be a wild ride and even after reading the script I know, for eight reasons, why the film is going to rock just as much as the script.
The original Django, sans chains.
Everything below will of course involve some spoilers, but I’ve left out major plot details to preserve the films integrity. This is your final warning.
1. A Star-Frosted Cast
Some say “star-studded cast”. I say star-frosted, because this movie has layers of cast. Once you get through the first layer, a new layer of actors appears, and then another and another. I won’t ruin these groupings, but the actors are good throughout. Just to review a handful of them:
Jamie Foxx should be entertainingly badass.
Tarantino’s new favorite toy. Imagine an actor who can make bad lines sound good. Now have him read Tarantino lines. That’s what I thought.
Samuel L. Jackson
After playing the narrator in Inglorious Basterds and the bit part in Kill Bill, Sammy J gets the first role in a long time he can be proud of. (We’re pretty sure he really is Nick Fury, so that doesn’t count.)
Leo’s going to have a lot to work with, and considering his acting ability, that’s a good thing.
Added to the cast while shooting, Hill plays a small but comedic role. My best guess is “Bag Head #2” isn’t going to get much of an appearance.
Raemar may not get to chew much scenery as he plays a small role as a slave trader. In the opening scene.
Co-starring in From Dusk Till Dawn, Tom Savini is the legendary makeup artist every horror fan knows.
An actor most people don’t know by name, but rather know by creepiness.
From Miami Vice to B-list career to plantation owner.
As far as women in the cast, Tarantino doesn’t have a lot of strong female leads in this film. I am however psyched he’s added Zoe Bell (star of Death Proof) to the cast as a slave tracker. She’ll add a tinge of female ferocity to the barbaric nature I’m sure the slave trackers will imbue. That said, many of the women in this film are young black women playing slaves. The woman with the most lines is the villain’s sister, played by Laura Cayouette. Second in line is Django’s wife played by Kerry Washington.
2. Tarantino Knows How to Make a Good Revenge Film
There’s a popular line said by Christopher Walken in the cult action flick Man on Fire that I’ll use to describe Tarantino, and it goes something like this:
Tarantino’s art is the revenge flick…and he’s about to paint his masterpiece.
Tarantino has owned the revenge genre for the last decade, first with Kill Bill in 2003, moving on to Grindhouse in 2007 and capping off the decade with Inglourious Basterds in 2009. All are different on some level, as if he’s using revenge to make a statement about what it is they are fighting for. In Kill Bill, Uma Thurman fights for all women who were beaten by the man they loved and trusted. In Grindhouse, a group of women take revenge on a man who embodies any man who takes advantage of a woman. In Inglourious Basterds, Jews get their revenge for the Holocaust. It also helps that Tarantino backs up his pain-stricken heroes with enough proper reason, accompanied with awesome music and camera techniques, to commit justified cold blooded murder.
Some have made the argument that the true “revenge” of Tarantino’s revenge films is in the banishment of a particular stereotype; for instance, Tarantino’s women are anything but weak and the Jews get a chance to directly fight the power that struck them down. Django Unchained seems to take on this revenge theme as well as the title character enacts revenge on everything that beat down slaves, from the slaveowners to the dogs that hunted them. When Django, played by Jamie Foxx, gets his first taste of revenge he rattles off the killer line we’ll all be hooting at:
I like the way you die, boy.
3. The Characters Are Strong and Built-up
The film finds our hero Django freed by a German bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz, who will be played by Christoph Waltz. He won an Oscar for his role in Inglourious Basterds and funnily enough will be playing a German in Django Unchained. Schultz is a gentle person, not accustomed to America’s slave trade, and takes Django under his wing. After Django sees Schultz expertly kill a few folks under the pretense of being a doctor, Django says,
What kind of dentist are you?
This makes the doctor laugh, as he pours the beers.
I haven’t practiced dentistry in five years. Not to say once I know you better, I wouldn’t like to get a look at that mouth – I’m sure it’s a disaster – But these days I practice a new profession…..Bounty Hunter.
Django isn’t the brightest person, not a fault of his obviously as he was never given an education, and throughout the first hour of the film doesn’t know many words, or even what a bounty hunter is. Tarantino uses this in different ways to explain to the audience aspects they may not know and it never comes across as cheap exposition. For instance, continuing from the dialogue above:
This gets no reaction from Django.
Well the way the slave trade deals in human lives for cash, a bounty hunter, deals in corpses.
In this instance it’s a cool way to set up Shultz’s badass behavior. Other times, Django may not know a word to push the plot forward. The two set out together and become allies. At the same time, Django learns how to wield a weapon and does some bounty hunting of his own. Tarantino spends the first hour of the film making these characters believable and strengthening the bond between them. That only makes the bloody action valid and reasonable. Nobody wants a bloodbath with no reason for it.
4. The Setting is Something Completely Different For Tarantino
The movie never feels quite like any western you’ve ever seen as there aren’t any showdowns in the street at noon, nor any small clichéd towns with your regularly scheduled tumbleweed. Instead, much of the first hour takes place in the wilderness of America.
There’s no escaping the setting.
Given, this “Western” is taking place predominately in the South, which is a bit different from the norm to begin with. When the film refocuses onto the revenge, the setting switches to a slave trade town and on to a plantation, all locals that should be fresh to anyone familiar with Westerns. It’s a brutal place and utilizing this atmosphere is only going to make the revenge that much sweeter. At one point, Shultz is eyeballing the slaves being treated like animals and says,
It’s a spectacle out of Dante.
Compared to Taratino’s other films, this movie is very much set in its timeline, and I’d wager if done right it will act as a character in its own. Inglourious Basterds was a period piece, but much of the film took place in tight rooms that were more akin to a studio set than Europe. Most scenes felt like they were worried more about the actors fitting in to spout the dialogue rather than look the part of WW2 Europe.
This film, however, is out in the open, with slaves being kicked in the mud outside post offices, fields of cotton and bounties being shot in cold mountains. Typically Tarantino has put characters in tight locations so that the audience can focus on and enjoy the dialogue. Here the characters are allowed to breathe, and I can’t wait to see what Tarantino does with these locales.
5. This Isn’t Cowboys & Indians, It’s a Spaghetti Western
A cool aspect Tarantino brings into the film is a Spaghetti Western flashback. It literally says in the script,
Django Spaghetti Western Flashback.
Tarantino doesn’t write what the flashback will look like at all, but I can only imagine it’ll use some great whistle music hearkening to scenes like these:
Tarantino isn’t just making a revenge film to show off killing, but is drawing parallels to a genre he wants to play with and create in his own vision. One could say Kill Bill was an ode to countless Kung Fu films. Anyone who’s seen this mashup of Kill Bill and the films he ripped off could attest to that. Tarantino has always been a lover of movies first, and this love is translated onto the screen. Sergio Leone, the godfather of Speghetti Westerns is even written into the script:
REVENGE MUSIC PLAYS
as we move into a Sergio Leone CU of DJANGO’s FACE.
If you’re a huge movie fan you might catch the references, which makes the experience that much better. If you have never seen a Spaghetti Western, you’ll most likely love what’s on screen because it’s all a love letter to cinema.
6. It’s the Dialogue, Stupid!
Surprisingly, Django and Schultz don’t have many good lines. Most of what they say is short and to the point. In fact, Django doesn’t say a whole lot in the film. Schultz has more lines and waxes poetically here and there as Landa did in Inglourious Basterds. He’s a very similar character with enough confidence to give two bulls a run for their money, but really this isn’t either of their films. This movie is plantation owner Calvin Candie’s, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Django is the hero, but the dialogue Tarantino gives Candie makes him the star.
It’s going to be interesting to see DiCaprio spout these lines, many of them using the “N” word like it was a speech impediment. He has the most to work with in this movie by far. As in most of Tarantino’s films, the characters that jump off the page tend to speak for long stretches and love to hear their own voice. You’ll see that countless times with Candie.
He’s the king of sleaze, and in fact, naming him Candie was a great move on Tarantino’s part. Just imagine this awful plantation owner snickering as he has slaves murdered for his fun, yet goes by a name that imbues sweetness. It might just send shivers down your spine at times. At one point he cuts in on Django and Schultz discussing matters and says,
(appraising the two men)
I swear you two are cozier than a couple of cuttle fish.
You’d be Surprised what a good conversationalist Django is.
Oh by now, I don’t think that would surprise me at all.
Candie gives Django a creepy smile.
7. When it Comes to Revenge, You Need Lots of Blood to Spill
To have your hero properly maim and kill, you have to give the audience plenty of reason to hate the villains. If the audience doesn’t hate the people who will eventually be murdered in cold blood by the hero, the audience will end up perceiving the hero as a villain too. Luckily, Django Unchained is filled with awful people who deserve to die.
It will also be interesting to see how the public takes pretty boy DiCaprio committing horrible violence on black slaves while spouting some ruthlessly racist lines. To make him that much more evil, Tarantino has his character rush in attacking an innocent black woman sleeping soundly in bed and,
…Calvin comes BURSTING in the room holding his belt in his hand. He YANKS OFF the sheets that Broomhilda sleeps under. Broomhilda lies naked under the covers. Candie brings the belt around her legs and backside.
Candie CHASES her naked body with his belt, from the top of the stairs, down the stairs, and through the lobby, and out the front door.
All to the amusement of the WHITE HOTEL GUESTS.
She RUNS out of the hotel naked, and then TRIPS FALLING INTO THE GREENVILLE MUD. She looks up from the mud, at Calvin Candie looking down at her.
Welcome to Candyland.
What a bastard! Accompanying him in his devilry is Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson. He plays an old slave who’s gained rank as second-in-command, but harbors evil intentions for any slave as long as it betters himself.
Stephen walks over to the hanging man, and as he talks to him, he begins fondling Django’s genitals.
Now you were quite the topic of conversation for the last few hours. Seemed like folks never had a bright idea in their life, was comin’ up with different ways to kill your ASS. Now most of ‘dem ideas involved f----n wit your fun parts…
Wow, that’s evil. Fondling a tied man’s genitals and threatening said genitals. Yikes.
Another henchman of Candie’s is a man who’s profession is training slaves to fight to the death. His name is Ace Woody, played by Kurt Russell. After reviewing new slaves to be added to his fighting stock he says,
Run ’em over to the Arena. Git ’em doin push ups. First one gives out, shoot ’em in the head.
Welcome to Candyland, boys!
There’s also a slew of baddies for Django to slay that make up the plantation’s employ be it slave trackers, handlers and even the damn dogs.
8. This Film is a Fairy Tale Story
Tarantino must know this is a touchy subject to be covering. There was that squabble he had with Spike Lee a few years ago as far as using the “N” word in a film produced by a white person. Well this should start a few more conversations.
That being said, the film portrays itself as a myth or fairytale. If you’ve seen a Spaghetti Western you’ll know the genre isn’t hyper realistic. This genre is all about telling a tall tale. Heck, one of the most popular Westerns is titled Once Upon A Time in the West. Heroes can kill 5 men standing on a quick draw (when it’s wildly known guns in those days couldn’t accurately hit what was aimed at), or survive in the desert living off their thirst for revenge alone.
A good fairy tale has a dark underbelly.
To further push this point, seemingly out of nowhere the film introduces a literary narrator to tell the viewer a blissful story of a slave’s good fortune. This gives the viewer an added negative impression of life at the time and adds weight to the story book aspect to the film.
A fairytale shoot ’em up is good thing because it’s about telling a story in a classic way. Good versus evil, heroes and villains with justice coming in the end. Everyone loves Indiana Jones because it’s about a heroes journey and look at how that series ended. Indie rode his horse into the sunset!
This is going to be a film that is fun and exciting. Tarantino is taking chances here and playing with a genre that hasn’t been touched in decades. It’s going to be a wild ride, and based on the script, this will be a film everyone will be talking about.
Based on the trailers we may not be getting the fairy tale aspect I was anticipating, but for what it’s worth things look to be staying strong with story and character. Happy viewing!