The biggest story of the last week, by a mile, was the debut of the first trailer for Quentin Tarantino's sure-to-be-controversial Western "Django Unchained." Starring Jamie Foxx as the title character, a slave out to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), with bounty hunter Christoph Waltz as his mentor and companion Dr. King Schultz, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, one of the villains, it was already one of the most anticipated films of the year beforehand, but the excellent teaser has certainly raised expectations even further.
With the trailer now having been out there for a few days, we thought it was a good time to dig into a little, and highlight some of the less obvious moments in the clip — hints and glimpses of some of the characters who'll play key roles in the script, as well as one example of the kind of Easter Egg we're sure Tarantino will be dropping throughout.
1. Big Daddy Bennett
That Colonel Sanders-looking fella that appears in one brief shot at the 2:03 mark? That's "Miami Vice" star Don Johnson (fresh off a role in Tarantino pal Robert Rodriguez's "Machete"), as Spencer "Big Daddy" Bennett, an incredibly racist slave-owner who employs the Brittle Brothers. He's the first serious threat that our heroes come up against, and is more dangerous than his dapper white suit might suggest. Way back in the day, we suggested that this was "the prime slot for the kind of John Travolta/Robert Forster-esque career revival that Tarantino specializes in," and between this and his recent turn in "Eastbound and Down," Johnson certainly seems to be on the comeback trail. And from what we saw from the footage in Cannes, he absolutely kills in the part.
2. The Brittle Brothers
Django and Dr. King's first target (aside from James Remar as his captor Ace Speck, who we see dispatched in the earliest moments of the trailer), are the Brittle Brothers, the outlaws who captured and sold Django and his wife Broomhilda. They're set up to be major antagonists, but as the trailer reveals later on, and this being a Tarantino film, it's not necessarily going to play out that way… We see all three in quick glimpses (around 1:12), but the most recognizable is M.C. Gainey, the grizzled character actor favorite who's appeared in "Con Air," "Sideways," "Justified" (as the father of 'Django' co-star Walton Goggins' character) and "Lost," as Tom Friendly. The others are slightly unclear: it was announced that "Urban Cowboy" and "True Blood" star Cooper Huckabee would be playing one of the others — we're assuming he's the third, eye-patched Brittle that we see (although we also thought it looked a little like Shea Whigham). As for the third: beats us. Any guesses?
3. The In-Joke
The close-up of a trio of Wanted posters at 1:04 into the trailer contains a neat little tip to the Western genre. The most prominent reads: "Reward: $2000 in gold coin will be paid for the apprehension, Dead or Alive, of Edwin Porter, for train robbery." Edwin Porter was, for those not up on their silent cinema, a pioneer of silent film and cross-cut editing, whose 1903 picture "The Great Train Robbery" is generally deemed to be the first Western. The film was an enormous success at the time, touring for years, and virtually gave birth to cinema as we know it. As for the other poster, for one Smokey Nelson, we're drawing a blank: any suggestions?
4. Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly
There aren't a ton of women in "Django Unchained," the most prominent being Kerry Washington as Broomhilda, who features heavily throughout the trailer. But there's one other: Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, the widowed sister of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who's just as unpleasant a person as her brother. We'd pegged possibilities like Christina Hendricks and Uma Thurman for the role, but in fact it was a a relative unknown who ended up with the role: Laura Cayouette, who played Rocket in "Kill Bill: Volume 2," as well as more substantial roles in the Tarantino-produced "Daltry Calhoun" and "Hell Ride," and can be glimpsed at 2:02 in the trailer. She's got small roles on the way in "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," "Loft" and "Now You See Me" too.
5. Franco Nero
The gentleman at the end, at the 2:18 mark, who asks Django his name is another in-joke of a kind: the actor is the great Italian star Franco Nero. Best known for roles in films like "Camelot," "Die Hard 2" and "Letters To Juliet," he presumably came to Tarantino's attention as the lead in 1966's "Django," Sergio Corbucci's ultra-violent Western that's one of the key reference points for Tarantino's film (watch it in full right here). The plot was quite different — in the original, Nero's Django is a drifter who carries a coffin containing a machine gun — but it did involve revenge, with Django looking for Major Jackson, who killed his wife, so it's a nice tip of the hat to include a meeting of the two Djangos, even if Nero's role is relatively minor.