Not since the release of Drive Angry has the phrase “holy gracious hell!” leapt so readily to mind. After countless musical and stylistic hints in films like Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino has finally helmed a full-blown Western, bearing the provocative title Django Unchained. To those familiar with the director’s preoccupations to date, it is no surprise that the title pays particular tribute to the Italian, or “spaghetti” school of Western moviemaking. Flavors of Ennio Morricone and similar composers have long pervaded Tarantino’s soundtracks, and now these themes will have literal, not just symbolic, applications to the chosen subject.
Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave acquired by a no-nonsense bounty hunter (Christoph Walz, who must appreciate what Tarantino’s last film did for him, and vice versa) for the information he holds about a mysterious gang of outlaws terrorizing the region. In return for his cooperation, Django is promised freedom for himself and his wife, who is held captive by Leonardo DiCaprio.
DiCaprio, taking a break from the brooding intensity which Martin Scorsese has helped him hone to a fine edge, appears to be enjoying himself as a smirking, eccentric, dandily dressed villain. He will more than likely have a twisted side to his personality, possibly accompanied by the eerie exuberance of the truly dangerous. Jamie Foxx surely has the gravity and stone-cold attitude to play a vengeful gunslinger. It should be interesting to hear Clint Eastwood, who has explored his own dark avenues as a director and star of spaghetti- and spaghetti-inpired Westerns, weigh in in Django Unchained.
As usual, Tarantino can be relied upon to blaze an unpredictable path. To the conventional bounty hunter saga or vengeance tale of films like A Fistful Of Dollars, or indeed the original Django, this new film boldly and brassily adds the historical context of American slavery… after a fashion. At least it seems to do so with the impish, freewheeling glee that characterized the fall of the Third Reich in Inglourious Basterds. While it seems inevitable that the score of this new film will include some trumpet-heavy desert anthems of the Old West, Tarantino signals that all bets are off in a trailer featuring Johnny Cash’s latter-day “Ain’t No Grave” followed by some decidedly funkadelic strains.
Time alone will tell if Django Unchained delivers all the fun and mayhem its trailer promises. But not since Kill Bill: Volume 1 has Tarantino teased audiences so aggressively. The open air and larger scale which Inglourious Basterds explored seems to have agreed with him. He is playing in Sergio Leone’s sandbox now. Or for a more contemporary example, he appears to have parachuted into the Coen Brothers’ locations for True Grit and gotten busy doing things his own way.
It is safe to expect that Django Unchained has a mighty outrageous tale to tell, and it would be a futile exercise to try guessing all that Tarantino’s wild imagination has in store. It is enough that he has put together a high-energy, eye-catching teaser that is sure to get audiences prickling with excitement for this most unusual Christmas present.
Django Unchained will be distributed by the Weinstein Company and Columbia Pictures, and is scheduled for an American release on December 25, 2012.