Cannes 2012: Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ Looks Like a Hard-Ass Sergio Leone Western [Updated]

Cannes 2012: Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' Looks Like a Hard-Ass Sergio Leone Western [Updated]
Cannes 2012: Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' Looks Like Hard-Ass Sergio Leone Western [Updated]

The Majestic Salon Diane was packed with the top movie press in Cannes, notebooks poised, as the King of Cannes, Harvey Weinstein, introed and unveiled footage from three upcoming Oscar hopefuls that weren’t ready for the Croisette this year: Paul Thomas Anderson’s $35 million “The Master” (here’s how the footage played; it’s set for an October 12 release, which TWC is releasing globally, financed by Megan Ellison’s Annapurna), David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” (TWC, November 21) and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” a global partnership with Sony (slates for December 25, we’ll see if it happens).

The first two may turn up in festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto or New York. Before the presentation, CAA’s Bryan Lourd admitted that while the other two are pretty much finished, “Django Unchained” is still in mid-production. Lourd has seen 45 minutes of it, but we saw less (8 minutes; 5 minutes of “The Master” and 2.5 minutes of “SLP”). UPDATE: Tarantino’s agent Mike Simpson says the film is scheduled to complete filming July 7. 

This means “Django” won’t have the benefit of the fall film festival circuit. A movie like this could use some careful handling and set-up from critics and media, to educate audiences on what to expect. While it’s not sensationally exploitative like its predecessor “Mandingo,” Tarantino’s movie is designed to blow people’s gaskets. He knows what he’s doing. How critics and smart-house audiences will respond is anyone’s guess.

What the footage reveals is that for the moment, while Tarantino has described the film as a “southern,” Weinstein Co. is selling this as a bang-up western, packed with physical comedy and bloody action and hell-bent revenge. And yes, it looks like a classic widescreen Sergio Leone western, even if the setting is New Orleans and Mississippi two years before the Civil War. (The music on the trailer ranged from classic Johnny Cash to James Brown. No Ennio Morricone here. As yet.)

We see a sophisticated German, Dr. King Schultz (“Inglourious Basterds” star Christoph Waltz), approach a chain gang and attempt to buy one of the slaves. When the guards don’t go along with this idea, he shoots them both and literally releases Django from his chains. He is now a free man. While Schultz poses as a dentist, with a big molar swaying on top of his horse and buggy, he’s actually a bounty hunter. He needs Django to identify some pretty nasty slave drivers he knows only too well, and Django is eager to help him. Don Johnson plays plantation owner Big Daddy; watching Django stalk across the grounds to shoot one of the men who abused him is chilling. He whips another to death. He also wants to find his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), who is owned by another piece of work, plantation owner Candie (a beefy Leonardo Di Caprio, with long greasy hair).

Schultz, appalled by southern America’s racist ways, tries to protect Django, who blooms under his tutelage and turns out to be a pretty good shot. Tarantino is taking the revenge western to a whole new level as the two bounty hunters shoot their way through the unsuspecting South. It looks like the first Leone-esque section of “Inglourious Basterds,” and it’s about fighting injustice, except that this time it’s not Brad Pitt against the Nazis in World War II–it’s an angry black man getting his own back from racist white southerners before the Civil War.

That’s the challenge faced by the wise and knowing patron of the arts, Harvey Weinstein. This is not your ordinary movie to sell overseas or domestically — or to the Academy. (I will not be surprised if the movie gets pushed back out of 2012.) But when Tarantino breaks the rules with style and panache, critics and audiences follow.

Walton Goggins (“Justified”) and Spagehtti western star Franco Nero are glimpsed in the footage. Not seen in this footage are Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Anthony LaPaglia and others.

The synopsis for “Django Unchained” is here:

Set in the South two years before the Civil War, DJANGO UNCHAINED stars Academy Award®-winner Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face-to-face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Academy Award®-winner Christoph Waltz).  Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty.  The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittles – dead or alive.
Success leads Schultz to free Django, though the two men choose not to go their separate ways.  Instead, Schultz seeks out the South’s most wanted criminals with Django by his side.  Honing vital hunting skills, Django remains focused on one goal: finding and rescuing Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), the wife he lost to the slave trade long ago.    
Django andSchultz’s search ultimately leads them to Calvin Candie (Academy Award®-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio), the proprietor of “Candyland,” an infamous plantation where slaves are groomed by trainer Ace Woody (Kurt Russell) to battle each other for sport.  Exploring the compound under false pretenses, Django and Schultz arouse the suspicion of Stephen (Academy Award®-nominee Samuel L. Jackson), Candie’s trusted house slave.  Their moves are marked, and a treacherous organization closes in on them.  If Django and Schultz are to escape with Broomhilda, they must choose between independence and solidarity, between sacrifice and survival…
Written and directed by Academy Award®-winner Quentin Tarantino, DJANGO UNCHAINED is produced by Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone.  The executive producers are Harvey and Bob Weinstein, Michael Shamberg, Shannon McIntosh, and James Skotchdopole.  DJANGO UNCHAINED will be released in the U.S. on December 25, 2012, and internationally by Sony Pictures.  

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