For nearly a minute of this trailer, Django Unchained appears to be a solemn film about slavery and its savage, deadly toll. We see scars on the backs of slaves, chains around their feet, and hear Johnny Cash mournfully singing "Ain't No Grave (Can Hold Me Down)" as night falls.
But you knew that wouldn't last. As soon as Christoph Waltz, playing bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz, fires the first shot from his revolver, the soundtrack switches to James Brown's "The Big Payback," and we know we're watching a Quentin Tarantino movie.
As the title of that James Brown classic suggests, Django Unchained is, like many of Tarantino's movies, a revenge flick. Jamie Foxx plays a slave named Django whose wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is being held captive by Francophile plantation owner Calvin Candie—played with obvious relish by Leonardo DiCaprio, who looks unusually loose and funny in this trailer, and whose acting will clearly be the talk of Christmas. (Both this film and The Great Gatsby are scheduled to open on December 25.) Schultz is hunting a gang called the Brittle Brothers, but he does not know what they look like, and Django does. So they team up. For a moment, the movie starts to look like Lethal Weapon meets The Searchers.
Above all, though, it looks like a Quentin Tarantino picture. As with his last film, Inglourious Basterds, the director has taken an impossibly fraught historical subject and given it his own irreverent, pastiche-y, unapologetically exuberant twist. Even more than the fun performances and Tarantino's unmistakeable dialogue ("You kill white folks and they pay you for it? What's not to like?"), the most exciting thing in the trailer may be the gorgeous shots of Wyoming, California, and Louisiana, where the movie was shot. I'm very curious to see what the director does with such rich (not to mention cinematically loaded) visual material.
Mr. Tarantino, you had my curiosity. Now you have my attention.