Usually I’ve focus on more “talky” types of screenplays, from ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ and ‘Margot at the Wedding’ years back, to ‘Funny People’, ‘The Social Network’, and ‘The Beaver’ more recently, not to mention of course last week’s piece on ‘This is 40’. Well, this time around I’m tackling a horse of a different color in Quentin Tarantino’s hybrid action film ‘Django Unchained‘. His script is very cinematic, down to him actually writing how he wants the scenes to play out, including the references you’re supposed to get, including one he expects you only to get on a second viewing. I think it’s actually better than what people were expecting, though certain aspects of it (hint, Leonardo DiCaprio, hint) aren’t quite what they may seem. This is pretty vintage Tarantino, if potentially a little more old-fashioned than usual for him. Certain similarities to ‘Inglourious Basterds’ will be noticed, but overall QT is doing less revisionist history and more just a bloody good revenge thriller set in the American South during the time of slavery.
The story (and script) begins with the Dentist/Bounty Hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) finding and acquiring the slave Django (Jamie Foxx). His reasoning? Django knows what a trio of bounties look like, so he’s a perfect partner for Schultz. Django is desperate to get his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) back, so learning the trade from a bounty hunter is of use to him as well. Thus, Django is freed by Schultz, giving him a leg up in the bigoted world of the south, though the bounty hunting skills he teaches him don’t hurt either. They’re successful in a series of bounties, leading Django to finally have the capabilities necessary to go after his wife. Schultz feels responsible to him though, and accompanies him along on the quest to Mississippi, which will turn out to be a good thing. Broomhilda has been purchased by the brutal Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a plantation owner who’s home, dubbed “Candieland”, is a hotspot for a slave fighting ring. Django and Schultz are able to ingratiate themselves to Candie by posing as wealthy slave owner and his freed slave expert looking to purchase some fighters, but while Candie doesn’t suspect anything, his servant Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) does, which leads to a third act where things get pretty hairy. I won’t spoil it for you here, and rumor has it Tarantino has filmed a different ending anyway, but suffice to say things don’t go as you’d expect them to.
This script is a very actor friendly one, but perhaps not exactly as much as Tarantino’s works in the past have been. The characters that have the most to do in the movie appear to be King Schultz and Broomhilda, which is why I think Kerry Washington has a better chance at an Oscar nomination than people think. Christoph Waltz is playing a role that’s not too far removed from Hans Landa in ‘Inglourious Basterds’, but this is a less morally ambiguous character, so he certainly could catch the eyes of a few voters. He’s definitely a co-lead, which was recently confirmed by The Weinstein Company announcing that he’d be campaigned alongside Jamie Foxx for Best Actor. One might assume that’s being done to make things easier for Leonardo DiCaprio, but unless Leo and Quentin have added more to the role since then, this won’t be the role that wins him an Oscar. Foxx and DiCaprio get far less showy roles overall, and DiCaprio is hurt by the fact that Candie doesn’t show up until over an hour into the movie. In fact, Samuel L. Jackson could get votes for a Best Supporting Actor nod, since he might wind up stealing scenes. Schultz is the best role in the script, but Stephen isn’t too far behind.
What I like most in this script is that Tarantino has made this a film about relationships at its core, and they’re loving ones at that. The first is platonic love between Django and Schultz as they form a bond that leads to friendship as they go on their adventures, while other is the romantic love between Django and his wife Broomhilda as he risks his life to find and be reunited with her. Those elements ring incredibly true in the screenplay, though this definitely isn’t the only interesting part of the flick. QT’s normal twisted sense of humor is on full display, but you could make the argument that this is a more mature movie for him than normal. I’m not sure if it’ll do anything for the Academy, but it may not be the long shot that some thought it to be earlier on.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Tarantino trims the fat of the script, since it does at times seem to take too long to get to the next major moment, but the dialogue is strong enough to go a long way towards solving that issue. Of course, he’s worked a bunch on the screenplay since this version, so I’m sure things won’t be exactly the same. Hopefully they only got better, but even as is this is shaping up to be a strong and very fun film.
Hardly a traditional script, ‘Django Unchained’ is likely going to be a very untraditional film, but one that may very well score a few Oscar nods. I think Best Supporting Actor may not be the lock that some think it to be, but Best Supporting Actress is more likely than most expect. Tarantino himself is much more likely to score a Best Original Screenplay nod than Best Director, with Best Picture and accompanying techs a big wild card. This script was a very solid read and I wouldn’t be upset if it was nominated at all, but we’ll have to wait until Christmas to see how it morphed into a film. I’m excited though, and you should be too, since Quentin Tarantino is back with a new film!
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!